Repeal Sought for NH Case Screening

An unusual law in New Hampshire, which has fired up passions on both sides since it was passed three years ago, is now under scrutiny, and at least one lawmaker is calling for its repeal. The idea may have meant well, and the statistics would seem to show it’s working, but there are hidden aspects that are creating a huge burden on the patients, making it clear that the law precludes all but the rich being able to afford to file at all.

The basics are that a retired judge (paid,) a volunteer doctor and a volunteer lawyer form a tribunal and hear all medical malpractice cases, screening them for merit before taking up court time and money. The law was meant to eliminate frivolous suits. At first glance, its statistics of eliminating 75% of the cases brought before the tribunal would suggest that it’s pretty much in keeping with the findings of the courts, and so it has saved the court 75% of the time they would otherwise have spent weeding out unfounded cases. But that’s not the end of the story.

The plus is that if there is unanimous agreement that the case has merit, the jury of the actual trial will be told that. But because the mock trial may cost the plaintiff as much as $30,000 before the case ever even gets to a binding court, it places injured parties in a very compromised position, when they can least afford such measures. Meanwhile, lawyers who might have taken the case on speculation are now going to have to lay out $30k of their own cash to pre-trial, meaning that most such attorneys will bow out. This means that, in the vast majority of the cases, people who truly have suffered bad practice are left unable to seek compensation or recourse for their legitimate injuries.

New Hampshire isn’t the only state reconsidering such measures. Maine’s own 20-year-old statute, a similar law, has been pegged by their Supreme Court for review and opinions as well The movement to repeal the law is spearheaded by New Hampshire Rep. Robert Rowe, R-Amherst, who said “”This panel has delayed a substantial opportunity for injured citizens to have recourse through the courts.”

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