JOINT MEETING OF THE STATE CIVIL COMMITTEE
AND MEDICAL LEGAL COMMITTEE
October 4, 2004
The meeting was called to order at approximately 12:15 p.m. by Co-chairs Kathleen Wilkinson, Robert Szostak and Gregg Mackuse of the State Civil Committee.
- Introduction: Kathleen Wilkinson welcomed everyone to the meeting and provided a brief update on several matters. First, Ms. Wilkinson noted that formation of the State Civil Litigation Section had now been completed and that, in the coming month, the proposed officers of the new Section will be circulated for review by the membership. Second, Ms. Wilkinson noted that the Discovery Report for the National Committee for State Courts would hopefully be published in time for the November meeting. Ms. Wilkinson then requested Ron Kovler to provide an update on the Bench/Bar Conference.
- Bench/Bar Conference: Ron Kovler then provided a brief overview of the upcoming Bench/Bar Conference in Atlantic City on November 5-6, 2004. Mr. Kovler encouraged everyone to attend as there will be extensive Continuing Legal Education available as well as extensive interaction with many members of the Court.
- Speaker: Ms. Wilkinson then introduced the featured speaker, the Honorable Justice Sandra Schultz Newman. Justice Newman was introduced as a graduate of Villanova Law School who has been very active with the law school. As part of her introduction, it was emphasized that with regard to women attorneys in particular, Justice Newman is respected as a role model. After a successful practice in Montgomery County, she was elected to be the first woman on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She remains active in many areas of the law and committees within the Supreme Court and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
a. Allocatur Petitions: Justice Newman outlined for the attendees the procedure of the Supreme Court for ruling on allocatur petitions. In general, in order for the Supreme Court to grant allocatur, three justices must agree to accept allocatur. On occasion, notwithstanding a grant of allocatur, the Supreme Court dismisses appeals as improvidently granted after receipt of the record from the court below.
b. Unification of Statewide Rules: Justice Newman briefly discussed with the attendees the Supreme Courts continuing effort to, on a statewide basis, unify the procedural rules.
c. Recent Changes in Medical Malpractice Rules: The majority of the meeting was spent discussing recent changes in Medical Malpractice Rules promulgated by the Supreme Court.
(1) Venue: Justice Newman discussed the first rule change implemented by the Supreme Court on venue. Under the rule change, a malpractice action must be brought in the county where the occurrence happened. As a result of the rule change, medical malpractice case filings in Philadelphia have been reduced significantly.
Judge Manfredi then spoke briefly to advise the attendees that, as a result of the rule change, 406 pending cases were immediately transferred, over one hundred (100) of which went to Montgomery County. On an annual basis, the amount of cases filed has been reduced by almost half. As a result, the amount of the payouts by insurers has been reduced.
(2) Mediation: Justice Newman also spoke about the mediation program implemented by the Supreme Court rule changes. Justice Newman encouraged practitioners to avail themselves of the mediation program. Judge Moss briefly noted that practitioners were using the mediation program. Judge Manfredi also noted that, for mediation to be successful, early intervention in a case will be needed by all parties.
(3) Bar Association Involvement In Rule Changes: Justice Newman then addressed the most significant issue raised by the attendees -- lack of an opportunity for members of the Bar to comment on the medical malpractice rules ultimately adopted by the Supreme Court. Justice Newman provided a general overview to the attendees of the manner in which the rules were implemented. In the case of the medical malpractice rules, the proposed changes came from an ad hoc committee formed to address the issue rather than by a Standing Committee. With rule changes recommended by Standing Committees, Justice Newman explained that there is usually more opportunity for input from the Bar than with an ad hoc committee.
Throughout the meeting, the attendees continually expressed to Justice Newman a desire by members of the Bar for a meaningful opportunity to comment on any proposed changes by the Supreme Court. For example, Chancellor Elect Chirls and Vice-Chancellor Feldman articulated the desire that the Bar comment prior to implementation by the Supreme Court to minimize any unanticipated consequences as many topics involve technical issues that would be particularly appropriate for practitioners to review. Judge Lachman also expressed a concern with the Supreme Courts invocation of Pa.R.J.A. 103(b), which often precludes an opportunity for comment. There was extensive discussion, which the Bar and Justice Newman participated in. Justice Newman suggested that the Bar Association could submit any input after a rule change for consideration by the Supreme Court.
- Concluding Remarks: Robert Szostak then concluded the meeting by thanking Justice Newman for attending and providing the attendees with an informative presentation. Following Mr. Szostaks remarks, the meeting was adjourned at approximately 1:20 p.m.
- Next Meeting: The next meeting will be held Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2004, at the usual location at the Bar Association.
Gregg W. Mackuse