When it comes to medical malpractice lawsuits injured patients usually have limited options available to them. If damages are too low, most firms will not take the case due to the expense of such lawsuits. In these cases, an injured patient usually gets nothing or whatever small amount offered by the medical provider. In other cases where damages were high enough that a firm would take the case, the patient would have to wait through years of litigation where the outcome is uncertain and without the money they need. If the patient won after the litigation then a significant portion of the award went to attorneys and expert witnesses while the medical provider had to go through a prolonged attack on his or her reputation as well as having to pay for their legal expenses. New Hampshire has implemented a new type of medical malpractice tort reform program. The ‘early offer’ law is meant to help citizens injured in the state achieve a fair settlement without the massive amount of time and money litigation requires.
The new ‘early offer’ law gives patients injured by medical malpractice another option. This option is not affected by the size or complexity of the claim. It is meant to provide patients with a voluntary option that is cost-free and gives a transparent and fair settlement. However patients will only be able to settle for economic damages. The tradeoff for not being able to recover non-economic damages such as pain and suffering is that their cases will be settled quickly and they will receive their money within several months.
Access to the program begins when a Notice of Injury is voluntarily submitted to the medical provider by the injured patient (the claimant). The claimant has an opportunity to obtain representation but if they are not represented then the medical provider provides a neutral legal adviser. Claimants have an opportunity to withdraw from the system but if they wish to continue they could be asked to undergo a medical evaluation. If asked, they have an equal say in which doctor will conduct the evaluation. The doctor cannot be affiliated with the medical provider. If the parties are unable to agree on a doctor then the neutral hearing officer will make the decision.
Once a medical provider receives a Notice of Injury they have 90 days to extend an offer or decline to participate in the program. If an offer is made then the claimant has 60 days to accept or reject the offer. Should the claimant not think the offer is large enough, a hearing can be requested before a neutral officer who will determine if the offer needs to be adjusted. If the offer is accepted by the claimant then the medical provider will pay for the claimant’s legal expenses, and payments for economic damages will begin within 15 days.
There are also checks to protect doctors from unreasonable claimant. If a claimant proceeds to court after rejecting an offer they must post a small bond to pay for the medical provider’s reasonable attorney’s fees for the “early offer” program if the claimant receives a jury award that is significantly less than the offer rejected by the claimant.
This program allows injured patients and medical providers to settle a case without years of litigation and the expenses associated with it. Closure for both patients and medical providers is reached quickly allowing both parties to move on.
But what do you think? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment or I also welcome your phone call on my toll-free cell at 1-866-889-6882 or you can drop me an e-mail at [email protected] . You are always welcome to request my FREE book, The Seven Deadly Mistakes of Malpractice Victims, at the home page of my website at www.protectingpatientrights.com.