With the popularity of tort reform many states have tried to control costs by instituting screening panels. Many of these panels are directed toward medical malpractice lawsuits, known for exorbitant costs and jury awards. About twenty states have instituted such panels to monitor such lawsuits at the outset, to encourage settlement of the claims and to weed out the baseless suits. State laws vary with regard to the composition of each panel so it is best to check with local counsel before proceeding. Typically, the panels are made up of an assortment of attorneys and physicians. In some states, the physicians need to be of the same specialty as the physician in the lawsuit. The panel is charged with ensuring the case has merit.
Once a claim is approved to proceed, the lawsuit may continue. However, some states will continue to require monitoring of the case with mandatory settlement conferences. Some states will also assist the plaintiff in locating expert witnesses. Settlement conferences will determine who must pay the other party’s costs and attorney’s fees if a trial results. If a defendant rejects a settlement offer and the plaintiff obtains a higher amount at trial, the defendant will be charged with covering the plaintiff’s costs; a plaintiff who rejects the defendant’s offer and is awarded less at trial will cover the defendant’s costs.
Many states require medical malpractice cases to have an expert witness. The purpose of such a witness is to substantiate the plaintiff’s claim. Most medical malpractice claims are subtle and turn on the issue of negligence and sometimes even reasonable medical opinions may differ. Some states require even more effort before a claim can proceed to trial. In Massachusetts, for instance, a plaintiff must show proof with the court, along with medical records, that there is sufficient evidence of the claim alleged. There are exceptions, of course, with obvious malpractice claims.
One aspect of such medical malpractice panels that is causing a lot of problems is the admissibility of panel findings in a subsequent trial. The admissibility depends on the laws of the state and is the subject of much controversy. Some states have allowed both instances under certain circumstances, such as a unanimous panel finding.
With all of these new changes, there has been some question as to whether these changes are effective in reducing the cost of medical malpractice litigation. Studies have not been conclusive that these measures work.
This article is for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as legal advice. Do not rely on the above information as all cases are different and different laws apply to different cases. Consult an attorney in your area for further guidance.