Bar News - October 19, 2012
Morning Mail: Flaws in Med-Mal Screening Addressed by Early Offer Law
By: Rep. Robert H. Rowe
I want to thank attorney Mark Abramson for his thoughtful letter regarding the early offer law. His factual description is correct, especially as to the damagesto which the new law is limited. As a long-time member of the NH House Judiciary Committee and currently chair of the committee, I am sorry to say that the thrust of his argument and conclusion are simply wrong.
Medical malpractice cases have always been heavily loaded with up-front costs and trial delays due to discovery. However, since the Medical Malpractice Screening law was instituted eight years ago, the cost of litigation and the trial delay has increased substantially as a result of requiring two trials – the panel and then the court. Also adding to the delay caused by the panel is the required alternate dispute resolution. Statistics show that it takes almost four years to reach court in medical malpractice cases. Statistics also show that law firms are turning away people with medical malpractice claims, if the potential damages are less than $200,000 to $250,000, due to the costs and delays associated with these cases.
So now we are left with a massive number of citizens who may have been injured through medical malpractice having no avenue of redress; many malpractice law firms can not commit to the up-front cost and time to commit to medical malpractice cases that have potential damages of less than $250,000. Prior to the Early Offer, the only options available to those citizens were not pursuing their claims or agreeing to a behind-closed-doors insurance company offer.
In the eight years since the screening panel law was enacted, I have waited for an alternative process to be offered. None has come from the medical malpractice attorneys. They have just cried, "Rescind the panel law." The early offer law is an alternative. It is voluntary, and a law with a five-year life. It is better for citizens then having no recourse. Like any major reform, the early offer law may need some adjustments, but it meets the needs of injured citizens who have no recourse at this time.
My challenge to the medical malpractice attorneys and the NH Bar Association is this: Where have you been for the past eight years? Why have you not offered an alternative procedure? Only one law firm assisted the House Judiciary Committee in its lengthy negotiations, which produced an excellent law that will serve the underserved citizens of New Hampshire. I assure you that the early offer law was passed wholly due to legislators who were concerned for our citizens.
The filing period for bills will commence in December. I hope to see positive input to further address the medical malpractice system.
Rep. Robert H. Rowe