Jury Still Out on New Hampshire's Panel System for Medical Malpractice Cases December 29, 2008

In an attempt to control medical malpractice costs New Hampshire instituted a screening process for all medical malpractice lawsuits. The system was designed to save time and money by keeping cases without merit out of the courtroom and encouraging settlements.

However, attorneys who represent injured patients don't believe that the system is doing its job. A lawyer must prepare for the panel, as if they were going to trial. They must bring witnesses and be ready to present their best case to the panel. The panel, made up of a retired judge, a doctor and a lawyer screen each medical malpractice case that is filed. Both sides then have six months to prepare for the panel hearing.

After the panel hears the case they must make a decision in favor of the doctor or the plaintiff. Though the decision does not limit the case from moving onto trial, a unanimous decision either way is given to the jury if the case goes to trial. While some lawyers believe that the panel system is in fact bringing down the cost of a trial others disagree.

As if the three year program did not have enough problems, there are not any concrete facts to back up either position. More than half of the malpractice suits filed after the new system began are yet to be resolved. Some argue that the panel has actually increased the time and cost or a jury trial. Even Chief Justice Robert Lynn agrees that the system is not without its flaws.

"To the extent that one of the ideas (behind this law) was that we'll get a quick and dirty resolution, that's just not happening," said Chief Justice Robert Lynn.

A meeting has been scheduled for January to discuss changing the process. Hopefully an agreement will be reached that all sides can agree on.

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