Proponents of reforming the system for litigating medical malpractice case constantly harp about “frivolous lawsuits.” Physicians and the insurance industry would like the public to believe that very few of the medical malpractice cases filed are, in fact, meritorious. This myth lives in Pennsylvania because many victims of medical negligence cannot discuss their cases. Why? Because most meritorious medical malpractices are settled rather than tried and victims who settle their lawsuits and their lawyers must agree not to publicize anything about their cases, including the settlements.
The Pittsburgh medical malpractice law firm for Rosen Louik & Perry, could cite hundreds of examples of lawsuits that they have settled for their clients where doctors and hospitals were clearly negligent. However, the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Fund (M-Care Fund), a taxpayer subsidized fund that insures all Pennsylvania heath care providers, has a non-negotiable condition that requires all medical negligence victims who receive M-Care proceeds (and their lawyers) to keep the settlements confidential. Moreover, in all cases involving minors and incompetent adult and in most death case, court approval of any proposed settlement is required; the M-Care Fund also requires that counsel in those cases ask the Court to seal any court-documents, which are normally a matter of public record, that would disclose the settlement. Pennsylvania judges would routinely grant requests to hide these settlements from public view. However, in recent years, an ever-growing number of Pennsylvania judges are rejecting secrecy in favor of full disclosure.
The attorneys at Rosen Louik & Perry have been personally involved in a number of cases in Allegheny County, in which Pittsburgh is the county seat, where judges have refused requests to seal otherwise public documents. The same is true in York County and McKean County. Furthermore, the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader has recently reported that Judge Mark Ciavarella of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas refused to seal the record of a $3 million settlement in a medical malpractice case. Judge Ciavarella, whose ruling was the same as that of Judge Terrance Nealon of Lackawanna County two years earlier, noted that allegations of medical malpractice are matters of great public concern and that settlements of such cases should be open to the public. The Times Leader also reported that the M-Care Fund paid more that $232 million in claims during 2005.
It should be noted that a number of injured victims who settle their medical malpractice cases for large amounts wish to keep their financial matters private. On the other hand, other injured victims would like the public to know about the negligent medical providers that caused their injuries to debunk the oft-heard claims of frivolous lawsuits and to allow an honest debate on the issue of the medical malpractice litigation system. The chances for an honest debate are increasing because of a growing number of Pennsylvania judges, who evidently agree with Justice Brandeis that “sunshine is… the best of disinfectants.”
Source: Wilkes-Barre Times Leader