New Hampshire lawmakers have approved pretrial screening panels in medical malpractice lawsuits in hopes of controlling rising insurance costs for doctors. The screening panel adopted by the House and by the Senate is modeled on one used in Maine. Doctors have lobbied hard for the measure. A panel comprising a judge, a lawyer and a doctor would review cases before they went to trial. The panel would consider evidence and testimony from witnesses. If the panel unanimously felt the case was weak and the parties continued to trial, the panel’s finding would be presented to the jury.
Some objected, saying this will force lawyers to try a case twice–once before a screening panel and once before a jury. Others argued the Maine model is unconstitutional in New Hampshire because the state constitution calls the right to a jury trial “sacred.”
Gov. John Lynch has said he will sign the bill.