Reargument Granted in Baker v. Hughes

The Superior Court recently granted reargument in this most important PIGA decision to date. In Baker v. Hughes, the Superior Court, No. 642-1999 (November 16, 1999), the Superior Court had ruled that a plaintiff could not collect set-off amounts from a physician’s personal assets. In this case, plaintiff received a verdict of approximately $66,000.00, but because the plaintiff had previously received worker’s compensation and medical benefits in excess of the verdict amount, the trial judge molded the verdict to zero because of PIGA’s set­off found at 40 P.S. §991.1817(a). Plaintiff claimed that although he could not collect the set­off amount from PIGA, he should nevertheless collect it from the doctor’s personal assets, but the Superior Court disagreed saying that the purposes of the PIGA statute would be frustrated if plaintiffs could collect set-off amounts from doctors whose insurance companies have become insolvent.

The question of whether plaintiffs can collect set-off amounts from a physician’s personal assets has been hotly litigated in several courts of common pleas throughout the state, most of which have found in favor of the doctor. Baker v. Hughes was the first appellate case to address the issue.

Just recently, a Petition for Reargument before the court en banc was granted. No date for the new argument has yet been set.

PaTLA Medical Malpractice Section chair John P. Gismondi says Baker is an important case for all medical malpractice practitioners.

“This is most important appellate case to date in the PIGA area. Both plaintiff and defense lawyers have a keen interest in whether doctors can be made to pay set-off amounts out of their own pocket. Everyone is going to be watching this case.”

While the plaintiff lost the set-off issue, a separate ruling in the Baker case was helpful to plaintiffs. The Superior Court ruled that only those medical bills which are causally related to the malpractice are subject to the set-off.