New Hampshire's Medical Malpractice Early Offer Settlement Option
There is a great debate over how to handle medical malpractice cases. There are also many arguments and points of view. Despite evidence to the contrary, some believe tort reform and monetary damage caps will reduce the number of “frivolous” lawsuits, thereby lowering health care costs and streamlining the process. In some states like Texas, tort reform laws have been enacted. Other states have tried different tactics to reduce health care costs and expedite settlements. New Hampshire's legislature created a new bill yesterday that is meant to provide a simpler and speedier alternative to medical malpractice lawsuits.According to the Union Leader, the “early offer” bill will allow patients who have suffered catastrophic injuries, doctor medication mistakes, and other medical malpractice will have the choice to utilize a new settlement process. A patient who believes he has suffered from malpractice sends a notice of his injuries to the health care provider. The provider has 90 days to decide to extend a settlement offer. During this period, an examination of the patient may be requested. The settlement would be based on medical costs, lost wages, and a “severity of injury payment” ranging from $1,700 for minor harm to $117,500 for grievous injury or death. After receiving the offer, a patient has 60 days to either accept the offer or hire a medical malpractice lawyer to file a traditional lawsuit. This new “early offer” is an option afforded to injured parties. It is not an added required step in the legal process.Insurance companies and hospitals have spoken out against the bill. They claim the new bill could cause the number of “frivolous” lawsuits to increase. This would cause medical malpractice insurance premiums to go up, therefore raising the cost of health care.Medical malpractice lawyers in New Hampshire have also raised concerns over some aspects of the settlement process plan. They question the “loser pays” stipulation that would require patients who turn down a settlement offer and hire a medical malpractice attorney to file a medical malpractice lawsuit to pay the provider's legal costs unless they are awarded more than 125 percent of the original settlement offer. The medical malpractice attorneys have also expressed concern that the hearing process is stacked against patients and offers them little time to dispute the medical provider's claims. Disputes would also be settled by the Department of Insurance and insurance companies, rather than an impartial third party.