New Hampshire lawmakers have approved pretrial screening panels in medical malpractice lawsuits in hopes of controlling rising insurance costs for doctors.
Many argued doctors are being driven from the state by the rising cost of malpractice insurance, particularly those who practice in high-risk specialties such as obstetrics and neurosurgery.
The screening panel adopted by the House and by the Senate in April 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 evidenceand 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 has a different attitude to jury trials. New Hampshire’s constitution calls the right to a jury trial “sacred,” which some argue means the jury should remain unbiased by a screening panel’s finding.
The House vote broke an impasse over the last few years between doctors and insurance companies who pushed for the Maine-stylepanel and House lawmakers who favored screening panels whose findings would not go to a jury.
Gov. John Lynch has said he will sign the bill.
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