N.H. House Votes to Pre-Screen Malpractice Cases

March 19, 2004

A New Hampshire bill mandating that medical malpractice cases be screened by a special panel before being allowed to go to court has won House approval, 203-113.

A medical provider, judge and a lawyer would serve on the panel. If they decided unanimously that the case was without merit, the plaintiff could have the ruling withheld from a jury but would have to pay legal costs of any trial they lost.

The bill, HB 1413, is the result of the recent findings of a legislative Medical Malpractice Study Commission. It is modeled after Maine’s pre-trial screening law, where malpractice premium rates are lower than in New Hampshire.

Supporters hope the system will encourage early resolution of claims. If the panel finds that a claim has merit, the defendant will be more likely to pay the claim or negotiate a compromise that is favorable to the claimant. If the panel finds that the claim lacks merit, the claimant is more likely to withdraw the claim or accept a nominal settlement, according to backers of the bill.

Opponents argued the pre-screening would hurt low and middle income plaintiffs who might not be able to afford legal costs if they lost in pre-screening.

But Epsom Republican Tony Soltani said the poor could get out of paying loser’s costs by declaring bankruptcy.
“This will only hurt the middle class,” Soltani was quoted as saying.

The state Senate has yet to consider the measure.

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