From Fair Share Act to venue shopping, legal reform is advancing in Pennsylvania

By: Lesley Smith
April 4, 2012
Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry

In June 2011, a broad coalition of citizens, business, health-care and insurance groups celebrated enactment of the Fair Share Act. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s signature ended a two-decade struggle to get this critical lawsuit abuse reform measure on the books, replacing the unfair legal doctrine of joint and several liability with a system in which financial liability better matches degree of actual fault in civil lawsuits.

This legal reform victory was significant considering the frustrating path to its eventual enactment, despite bipartisan support. The law was signed in 2002, only to be challenged in court by some legislative leaders on a technicality over how the bill itself was passed, and thrown out as a result. The measure reached the desk of then Gov. Ed Rendell early in this first term, but was subsequently vetoed (by a governor who had previously indicated his support).

With the Fair Share Act secure, the work to bring greater balance and predictability to Pennsylvania’s legal system continues with efforts to pass venue shopping reform for all civil liability cases.

The practice of “venue shopping” allows trial lawyers to file lawsuits in areas that have no relation to the cause of action or the defendant, but that have a history of favoring plaintiffs. In Pennsylvania, that jurisdiction is Philadelphia, which was recently named by the American Tort Reform Association as the nation’s No. 1 “Judicial Hellhole” because of its pro-plaintiff bias.

Venue reform was adopted in the early 2000s for medical liability cases. It has had a dramatic impact on medical malpractice filings in the Commonwealth, with 1,365 filed in Philadelphia in 2002 prior to the change, down to just 381 in 2010.

Lawsuit abuse reform supporters are hoping for similar success through enactment of expanded venue shopping restrictions, and are backing pending legislation (H.B. 1976) that would end this unfair system of “jackpot justice.”

With Pennsylvania long being recognized as having one of the worst legal climates in the nation, it is hoped that the Fair Share Act is only the start of improvements that will create an environment where job creators feel they can invest and operate with confidence – an investment in a brighter economic future for all Pennsylvanians.

Lesley Smith is the Communications Executive for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.  For more information, please visit the group's website.