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State Supreme Court Reaffirms Use of Med Mal Screening Panels

The most common ways that proponents of tort reform seek to alter the civil justice system in medical malpractice cases relates to damage caps. These caps are incredibly obtrusive and unfair limits on what a plaintiff can recover, no matter what the harm caused or what the jury decides is reasonable when hearing the details of the case. These caps are a “one size fits all” approach to justice that, in many cases, violates foundational principles of fairness. Some states have struck down attempts by the legislature to force these arbitrary caps on consumers–including Illinois.
However, damage caps are not the only way that some reformers attempt to make it more challenging for community members to seek full acountability for their losses following negligence. Some of the other, less direct, attempts include adding more roadblocks in the way of access to a traditional jury in a civil suit.

For example, some states have put “screening panels” in place. These panels are essentially a first-stop for those seeking to hold their medical professional accountable for harmful medical errors. While they seem innocuous, the reality is that these panels often act as a severe disadvantage to patients. That is because, there are often different evidentiary rules applied with hearing in front of the panel. In addition, those hearings are often truncated. While the panel’s judgment is not technically binding, the panel’s decision is presented to a jury if a civil lawsuit follows afterwards. In that way, the decisions are incredibly influential. It is simply a more nuanced way of trying to influence unbiased jury assesments in these cases.

Some have challenged the constitutionality of these panels as well. However, one state high court recently accepted the constitutionality of one of the panels. According to the Clincal Advisor, the New Hampshire Supreme Court recently allowed the use of these mandatory hearings. However, they noted that the trial court judge has discretion in each case to determine the extent of the panel’s findings which will be revealed to the jury.

These sorts of panels are used in at least 16 different states, though each has slighlty different rules about how the panels operate. However, in all cases an argument can be made that these panels are nothing more than another roadblock placed in the way of full legal accountability for those potentially harmed by medical negligence. It remains frustrating that so many attempts are made to add complexity to the notion that juries composed of community members hear the evidence of a case and make a judgment.

Fairness For Illinois Medical Malpractice
Those who want to protect the interests of those harmed by medical errors are urged to get invovled in efforts to protect patients rights. One of the new efforts on that front comes from the American Association for Justice (AAJ). The AAJ recently launched the “Take Justice Back” campaign to organize support for legal fairness for consumers. The site urges community members to share their stories and to learn more about the various ways that the justice system is being attacked by big interests seeking to insualte themselves from full legal accountability. Pleae click here to check out the site.

Also, if at any point your or someone you know may have been harmed by medical negligence (or any other form of negligence), please get in touch with our legal team to see how we can help.

See Our Related Blog Posts:
AAJ Launches “Take Justice Back”

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