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PA Supreme Court Ruling May Make it Easier for Defendants to Change Venue

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The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania recently overturned the Superior Court’s reversal of a trial court’s decision to transfer a case from Philadelphia to Dauphin County.  In doing so, the Supreme Court lowered the bar for defendants to show a venue change is proper based on forum non conveniens. 

In Bratic v. Rubendall, the plaintiff originally brought suit in Philadelphia County and was met with a motion for change of venue from defendants.  Defendants argued venue transfer was warranted because eight of their witnesses were located in Dauphin County.  Plaintiff argued the affidavits provided by defendants were lacking in detail and were repetitive.  Judge Eakin ultimately agreed with the defendants.

Under the then existing law as outlined in Cheeseman v. Legal Exterminator, a change of venue was only warranted when the plaintiff’s choice of venue was “vexatious and oppressive” – a high burden for defendants to overcome.  In the Bratic opinion, Judge Eakin explained that the standard of “vexatious and oppressive” does not require the defendants to provide detailed specifics about how the chosen venue would impact the parties.  He further explained that trial courts have the discretion to balance several factors, including distance traveled and court congestion, to make the determination of whether a venue change is warranted.

It is yet to be seen whether this “lowering of the bar” will lead to an increase in forum non conveniens motions.  Plaintiffs’ attorneys believe there will be a surge of forum non conveniens motions, while defense attorneys maintain that these motions have routinely been filed in the past, despite the heavy burden of Cheeseman.  Since the Bratic decision, it is anticipated that trial judges will have more confidence granting forum non conveniens motions and that their decision after weighing the relevant factors will be affirmed.

While the Bratic decision may impact personal injury and motor vehicle litigation, it will not affect medical malpractice cases.  Section 1303.514 of the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Act requires the creation of an Interbranch Commission on Venue, which has resulted in a change in the rules of civil procedure.  Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1006 now provides that medical professional liability claims must be brought in the county in which the cause of action arose, or any county where there can be venue against one of the providers in cases of multiple healthcare providers as defendants.

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