A long-established staple of the tort reform movement has been a push for screening panels that evaluate medical malpractice claims before trial–the goals being to dispose of the case without the need for for a trial and its attendant expenses, and to do so for a reasonable settlement amount.  According to its proponents, the end result would be a reduction in the high premiums some physicians pay for medical malpractice liability insurance.  Such panels are usually comprised of a judge (active or retired) and a lawyer for each party.  Some lawmakers in our own state have proposed turning such panels into “health courts,” in which the judges would be able to retain their own, “objective” physician-witnesses to review the merits of the case.

Unfortunatley, such panels have proved to be inefficient in practice, and their results often favor doctors and hospitals over patients .  Nancy West , writing for New Hampshire’s Union Leader , describes the problems that have resulted in her state following the implementation of such screening panels, and notes that they have not fared any better in the neighboring state of Maine, whose chief justice , Leigh Saufley, opined in a 2007 opinion that:  “The [Maine panel system] has, unfortunately, become a cumbersome process with unpredictable results that costs both plaintiffs and defendants money and time in a way that was not intended by the legislature.”

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