The Republican Party controls both the Governorship and the General Assembly in Harrisburg, and they have made it one of their top priorities to prevent injured workers, consumers, and patients from receiving fair compensation for their preventable injuries. Back in September, I wrote about this attack on Pennsylvanians’ rights, discussing a legislative alert put out by the Pennsylvania Association for Justice which described some of the bills that Republican legislators had proposed as a means of further eroding Pennsylvania’s civil justice system.
Those bills included, for example, HB 304, which would impose a 15 year statute of repose in all product liability cases, which would mean that manufacturers of all types of products would be completely immune from any liability for products made before 1998. If you were driving down the road and a 1997 Ford suddenly caught fire and crashed into you, you would have no recourse against Ford.
Then there’s HB 808, which would force injured workers to continue treating with employer-designated healthcare providers for 180 days, instead of the current 90 days. The point of that law is to allow employers to send seriously injured workers to doctors the employers know will discount their complaints and dismiss their injuries, thereby making the worker and their lawyer more likely to settle their workers compensation claim. Even if the worker doesn’t settle, the employer-designed physicians can create an unfavorable, inaccurate medical record about the most important time in the care, the first six months after the accident, just in case the plaintiff decides to seek more compensation.
There’s also HB 1552, which would sharply limit where personal injury lawsuits could be filed (it would no longer matter where the defendant committed the negligence, where the defendant did business, or where the defendant kept their offices), part of an effort to pull personal injury lawsuits away from the fast-moving urban courts in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and put them instead in the underfunded rural courts. Rural courts don’t have the same resources, so cases take longer to complete, thereby making it more likely the plaintiff — who, being injured, may have lost their ability to work and has incurred significant expenses relating to the injuries — will compromise the value of their case, all while allowing insurance company to make more money investing the insurance proceeds.
So imagine my surprise when I saw many of these same representatives who fight so hard to limit Pennsylvanians’ access to civil justice suddenly developing a passion for a certain type of civil lawsuit. Was their sudden display of sympathy for children brain damaged by malpractice in delivery? Workers paralyzed by employers who violated safety laws and regulations? Consumers who were injured or died as a result of taking dangerous prescription medicines? Victims of sexual abuse precluded from justice by the statute of limitations?