The state Senate has voted to require pre-litigation screening when patients sue doctors in hopes of weeding out frivolous cases and lowering malpractice insurance premiums.
The Senate voted 19-3 to require that a panel made up of a judge, a doctor and a lawyer evaluate malpractice lawsuits before they go to court. The bill is modeled after the process in Maine, where malpractice premiums are 40 percent lower than in New Hampshire, said Sen. John Gallus, R-Berlin.
He called the bill a chance to protect “both those who are truly injured as well as the medical providers.”
“You’ve seen the outmigration of docs, especially in the North Country,” he said. “You really have to concentrate on having a liability climate that keeps these doctors.”
A version approved earlier by the House would have required plaintiffs who lost their cases before both the panel and a jury to pay for trial costs if they withheld the panel’s findings from the jury. But that provision — criticized as penalizing the middle class and poor — was not included in the Senate version.
The Senate also rejected an alternate proposal to remove the lawyer and doctor from the panel and have it composed entirely of judges. Instead, it specified that the medical provider serving on the panel practice in the same specialty as the accused if possible.
That’s akin to an manufacturer hearing a complaint about one of its own vehicles, complained Sen. Joseph Foster, D-Nashua.
“You might have some question about whether you’re getting a fair shake,” he said. ‘”The impartiality of that panel is important.”
He and other opponents questioned whether the screening process alone caused Maine’s premiums to decrease and said New Hampshire does not have a history of outsized jury awards in malpractice cases.
Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, said he wasn’t convinced that premiums would drop significantly.
“I think about the victims on the other side, who by virtue of this legislation will never be heard,” he said. “The little guy … has to be protected, and we’re the only ones who can protect that person.”
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