Filing a medical malpractice suit in New Hampshire just got easier and more cost efficient. As of July 2023, mandatory screening panels, which had been in effect for almost 20 years, are no longer required for these types of lawsuits in the state.
What does this mean? Prior to the repeal of this law, all medical malpractice lawsuits in New Hampshire were required to be considered by a screening panel—made up of a retired judges or individuals with judicial experience, a health care practitioner who practiced in the area of the alleged malpractice, and an attorney—before the case was allowed to go to trial. Created in 2005, the intent of these panels was to discourage the filing of frivolous injury-related lawsuits and resolve legitimate claims as early and inexpensively as possible. For the panels’ findings to be admissible at trial, as to the plaintiff, all three members of the panel had to be in agreement that the claim had merit. In contrast, if any one of the three panel members found for the defendant, this was also admissible at trial.
In theory, a unanimous finding that the defendant’s health care provider’s error was indeed the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, would motivate the provider and his or her insurer to settle before trial rather than risk having a jury hear about the panel’s conclusions. The theory was that this would contain the costs of the claims themselves, thereby making malpractice insurance more affordable for providers.
In practice, however, the screening panels slowed the process due to longer discovery time requested by defendants who had to prepare for two proceedings, the panel, and the trial. They also greatly increased costs and expenses of the litigation since paid experts were required to testify at the panel, at deposition, and at trial. These factors, as well as the time limits imposed on these proceedings, led to significant administrative burdens and costs on the court system.
Recognizing the failure of these screening panels, Governor Sununu signed Senate Bill 65 into law which officially repealed medical malpractice screening panels. The legislation became effective July 1, 2023.
While the panels are no longer required, New Hampshire does still have a 3-year statute of limitations in place for medical malpractice suits. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of medical malpractice in New Hampshire, contact us.