The 2013-14 president of the Pennsylvania Defense Institute said it is too soon to know the impact of Pennsylvania's law changing the traditional doctrine of joint and several liability so that defendants apportioned responsibility for causing a plaintiff's injuries at 60 percent or less only pay the portion for which they were found liable.
But the Fair Share Act, enacted in the spring of 2011, was the greatest accomplishment of the General Assembly in recent years, said Peter J. Speaker, president of the organization for defense lawyers, insurance executives, self-insurers and independent adjusters.
The law is "bound to result in more fair awards and more fair treatment of businesses in Pennsylvania," Speaker said. "That's going to keep more jobs here and attract more jobs."
With the rise of bad-faith insurance claims, the inclusion of bad-faith counts in complaints "delays resolution of claims and it drives up the cost of litigation and drives up the cost of insurance for everybody," Speaker said. "Plaintiffs lawyers may think it causes insurance companies to pay more or pay quicker. I believe it really has the opposite effect."
While claims get much closer attention, it takes more time and effort to resolve claims involving bad-faith allegations, Speaker said.
He would like to see a court rule that bad-faith claims cannot be prosecuted until plaintiffs resolve their case-in-chief.
One of Speaker's goals as president is to welcome new members to the professions of the law and handling insurance claims.
In addition to offering free or discounted memberships, Speaker's goal is to welcome those "who do not have a lot of experience and help them understand that fairness and efficiency are the keys to success in the insurance defense community," he said. "We need to be dedicated to ensure that people get the full benefit of their insurance coverage and that they get no more and no less."
Upcoming PDI programs include one this week in which Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Correale F. Stevens will talk about appellate advocacy and a program in September with presentations on issues such as case law regarding expert witnesses, Speaker said.
The defense group may often be in opposition to plaintiffs lawyers, but Speaker said plaintiffs lawyers are welcome to participate in the PDI and often meet with the PDI to share their knowledge.
Speaker is also a member of the claims committee of the Pennsylvania Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, which organizes educational events for people involved in insurance claims.
A Central Pa. Man
Speaker is one of three managing partners for Thomas, Thomas & Hafer, which started as a Harrisburg firm in 1977 and now has grown to around 80 attorneys and six other offices.
Speaker manages the Harrisburg office and practices in the areas of general liability, insurance coverage, bad faith and subrogation.
The firm does almost 100 percent defense work, most of it for insurance companies, Speaker said, and the firm also has medical malpractice, workers' compensation and employment discrimination groups.
Speaker began his career as a trial lawyer for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office's torts litigation unit, where he defended tort claims against various state agencies.
Speaker said he likes the bar in Central Pennsylvania because "almost all the lawyers here are courteous, friendly. It's a real pleasure doing legal work in Central Pennsylvania."
And the geography of the region is beautiful, the schools are good and "life has a nice pace," said Speaker, who has five children and one grandson.
The one thing Speaker loves that he can't accomplish in Central Pennsylvania is scuba diving. Speaker travels with his wife, Vickie, for that hobby, including to Hawaii and the Caribbean.
Speaker also grew up in Central Pennsylvania.
His father, Fred Speaker, was attorney general under the late Governor Raymond Shafer, Speaker said. Speaker received legal training growing up with his dad, he said.
Speaker's father would debate anything and everything, and Speaker would take the opposite position of his father to carry out their debates.
"He was my hero," Speaker said. "I worshipped my dad and he enjoyed a good debate. He loved the law. And he was a very principled man who always stuck to his guns. I like to think I have tried to model that."