NH Supreme Court Upholds Medical Screening Panels

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of medical screening panels used to determine the validity of medical malpractice cases prior to trial. Advocates for the medical screening panels have argued that they assist in speeding up the process and discourage frivolous lawsuits. However, evidence of such effectiveness has been sorely lacking.
In upholding the panel’s constitutionality, the Court did allow individual justices the discretion of how much to tell a prospective jury concerning the panel’s findings. According to the Clinical Advisor, “The resulting legal decision left the panel process largely intact, and the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that the panel process is constitutional. However, the court noted that it is the purview of the trial judges to decide how much information about the panel will be presented to juries. There has been concern that information about the panel’s decision could exert too much influence on a jury, but the Supreme Court decision largely dismissed these concerns.
Medical malpractice screening panels are used in some form or another in 16 states, and largely operate with much less stringent rules of discovery and witness testimony, and far shorter schedules than trials. In New Hampshire, the panel must consist of a retired judge, an attorney and one or two physicians.
Even if the panel makes a unanimous decision that there is no liability, the case may still go to trial, however, the jury is told of the panel’s findings. The state Supreme Court has now left it up to Superior Court judges to decide on an individual basis precisely how much information about the panel process the jury should be allowed to hear.”