In 2005, New Hampshire lawmakers created medical malpractice screening panels consisting of a doctor, a lawyer, and a retired judge who initially determine medical malpractice claims in an effort to reduce medical malpractice litigation costs and to control the rising costs of medical malpractice insurance for New Hampshire medical providers. One goal was for medical malpractice screening panels to render their decisions within six months.
The law provided that the decision of the screening panel was not final and any of the parties were allowed to subsequently file their medical malpractice claim in court. However, if the panel’s decision was unanimous, the panel’s decision could then be submitted to the jury deciding the medical malpractice case. The plaintiff could waive adjudication by the medical malpractice screening panel only if all of the defendants agreed to join in the waiver.
Eight Years Later, What Has New Hampshire’s Experience Been With Its Medical Malpractice Screening Panels?
In short, the New Hampshire experiment using medical malpractice screening panels to reduce litigation costs and to control medical malpractice insurance rates has been a miserable failure.
The New Hampshire court system reported that of the 107 medical malpractice cases filed during 2013, only 2 involved a screening panel hearing. The New Hampshire court system further reported that the goal of medical malpractice cases being decided by the screening panels within six months has failed miserably: the average time from filing to the hearing or disposition of the claim was 660 days in fiscal year 2013.
The goal of reducing the number of medical malpractice cases that went to trial in New Hampshire by implementing screening panels has also failed: 6% of the medical malpractice cases that waived screening panels went to trial whereas 8% of medical malpractice cases that went before a screening panel went to trial.
The medical malpractice cases that went before a screening panel took longer to resolve than those that were waived: the medical malpractice cases that waived the screening panels took, on average, 23 months to conclude whereas those cases involving screening panels took an average of 29 months to conclude.
The goal of reducing the rate of increase of medical malpractice insurance rates by implementing medical malpractice screening panels has also failed: New Hampshire experienced the second largest increase in medical malpractice insurance rates in the United States in 2012 (4.2%).
Despite New Hampshire’s miserable and failing experience with its medical malpractice screening panels that have not fulfilled their purpose or met their goals established when they were implemented eight years ago, New Hampshire legislators continue to debate medical malpractice “reforms,” including House Bill 583 (which the Senate rejected) that would substitute offers of proof in place of live testimony before medical malpractice screening panels.
New Hampshire’s experience with medical malpractice tort reform supports the argument that the long-established and effective tort system in the United States that relies on unbiased juries selected from people residing in the geographic area where the tort occurred or where the defendant has substantial connections is still the most fair, just, and honorable method of resolving civil disagreements among us.
If you or a loved one suffered injuries or death as a result of medical malpractice in New Hampshire or in another U.S. state, you should promptly seek the advice of a New Hampshire medical malpractice attorney or a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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