HomeLearnAnatomy of a Pennsylvania Lawsuit

Submitted Courtesy of Jerry Frazer
MGIS Property & Casualty Insurance Services, Inc. 

The article is provided as an overview of the legal process in the state of Pennsylvania. It is not all encompassing of the process nor is it intended as legal opinion or advice. To learn more contact the author or your personal legal representative.

The Pleadings Stage

  • Pleadings are legal documents that provide the framework of the case. In Pennsylvania, a case can be initiated by a Writ of Summons or by a Complaint. A “Writ” is usually a one- or two-page document listing the plaintiff and the defendants. A “Complaint” is a detailed explanation of the case from the plaintiff’s point of view.
  • A “Certificate of Merit” is now required in Pennsylvania, which means that the case must be reviewed by a physician before the plaintiff can proceed with the case. If this Certificate is not provided, the physician who has been named can file a document that will allow him or her to be dismissed from the case (“non Pros”).
  • The defense has the opportunity to respond to the Complaint, and can attempt to have statements removed that may not be proven.
  • When this stage is finalized, the final Complaint may be different than the original Complaint because of the defense attorney’s work on behalf of the Physician.


Discovery is the point in the process where the actual finding of facts, from a legal perspective, occurs. It likely will include the following steps:

1. Request for Documents — The plaintiff’s relevant medical history will be obtained, and all documents will have to be shared among all involved parties.

2. Interrogatories — A request that each side provide answers in writing to specific questions.

3. Depositions — All parties that may have been involved in the care of the plaintiff may be called to testify and provide a factual account of the treatment provided. In many cases, individuals who are not part of the lawsuit are called as witnesses.

4. Expert Testimony — Once all of the depositions are completed, both parties will obtain expert witnesses to provide written expert opinions that will be used for settlement negotiations or to support either the plaintiff or defense arguments should the case go to trial.


Once discovery is completed, the likely outcome of the case may be determined.

  • Dismissal  — The plaintiff will realize that the case is not strong enough to be taken to trial, and the defendant has made it clear that no settlement is forthcoming. As a result, the plaintiff will allow a defendant to be dismissed from the case. This may happen at any time as the case works its way through the system. Approximately 70% of all cases are dismissed.
  • Settlement — A settlement is when the parties come to a negotiated agreement to settle the case. There are many motivations for settlement. Many are “nuisance” settlements; others occur because both parties may feel there is a risk in taking the case to trial. Settlements may range from a few thousand dollars to millions. Settlements (estimated) are reached in 20% to 25% of cases.
  • Trial — Only 5% to 10% of all cases go to trial in a given year. There is a higher risk to the plaintiff in taking a case to trial in that approximately 90% of verdicts are for the defense.  The risk to the plaintiff is that he or she will get nothing. The risk to the defendant is that the trial verdict will far exceed the amount demanded by the plaintiff before the trail, which could lead to a “bad faith” action against the insurance company.
  • Verdicts  –– A note on verdicts: The verdicts you read about in the papers are frequently reduced by the judge after jury members have made their decision or may be reduced upon appeal.

Negligence Defined

A medical malpractice case cannot exist without  a claim for damages. These cases are based on medical negligence and, therefore, the following four elements need to be present for the plaintiff to make a successful tort claim:

1. The offender owed some sort of legal duty to the victim

2. The owed duty was breached

3. The victim sustained injury, illness, or some other sort of harm from the breach of duty

4. The victim sustained losses that may be compensated in the form of damages.

When these four aspects of a case are present the plaintiff may be successful in a claim.

Submitted Courtesy of Jerry Frazer
MGIS Property & Casualty Insurance Services, Inc.

Jerry Frazer has made insurance his career since 1983. He has specialized exclusively in professional liability insurance and claims management since 1992. Jerry can be reached at 800-969-6447,extension 627, 801-910-9626 (cell), or Jerry.Frazer@mgis.com.

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