Screening Malpractice Claims

Physician's Money Digest, September15 2003, Volume 10, Issue 17

A potent weapon in the fight against frivolousmedical malpractice suits is a legal review panellike the one that's been operating in New Mexico foralmost 3 decades.

Under New Mexico's malpractice laws, a 7-memberpanel screens malpractice claims before they go tocourt. The panel is made up of 3 physicians and 3lawyers, with a seventh member, a lawyer who isn'tinvolved in malpractice work, who can cast a vote incase of a tie. All members of the panel are volunteers,and doctors get CME credits for time spent on thelegal review panel.

Although the review panel's decision on the meritsof a malpractice claim isn't binding, a negativeopinion can put a plaintiff and their attorney onnotice that the case is likely to lose in court. Sincethe review panel has been screening malpracticeclaims, only about 30% of the cases it has heardhave gone on to court.

The state of Louisiana has a similar setup. A panelof 3 doctors must review a malpractice claim before itcan be filed in a court of law. Although Louisiana andNew Mexico also have provisions in their malpracticelaws that cap liability, such limits are not necessaryprerequisites for a state to set up a review panel.

In addition to their efforts to revise malpracticelaws in their states, doctors should also be petitioningstate lawmakers for the kind of malpractice claimreview that has proven effective in both New Mexicoand Louisiana.