Panel backed againto study doctors’ malpractice cases

NASHUA – The Republican in the District 12 state Senate race says the Legislature should pass a measure to establish an independent panel that would evaluate whether negligence exists in malpractice against physicians.

Rep. Harry Haytayan of Hollis said at a news conference at Greenbriar Terrace Healthcare on Thursday that he pushed for such a measure in the last Legislative session, but it failed after heavy lobbying in the Statehouse, mostly from trial lawyers like his Democratic opponent, David Gottesman of Nashua.

District 12 consists of Nashua Wards 1, 2, 5 and 9, along with the towns of Brookline, Hollis and Mason.

According to Haytayan, who is also a lawyer, the legislation is badly needed because the state is losing physicians, especially ob/gyns, radiologists and neurosurgeons because of rapidly increasing malpractice insurance costs.

He wants to establish an independent team that would be appointed by the chief justice of the Superior Court system and would comprise a judge, a lawyer and a physician who would determine whether there was negligence in a medical case before the case ends up in court.

If the panel agreed there was no negligence, then the case would be settled and would never make it to court, he said. If the team found a physician erred, then that would be reported to the court. In any event, the establishment of such a panel would not prevent anyone from suing a doctor, but could lower the number cases considered frivolous and help reduce insurance costs, Haytayan said.

Such legislation is in place in Maine, he said, where liability insurance costs are 40 percent cheaper for physicians than in New Hampshire.

“You don’t need to be rocket scientist in public policy to see that if they have model that is working, then we should at least try it here,’’ Haytayan said

A few area doctors attended Haytayan’s news conference and echoed his statements about the effect of rising malpractice insurance costs.

Palmer P. Jones, executive vice president of the New Hampshire Medical Society, said the trend 15 years ago was that people had to travel to Boston for treatment of serious medical conditions and because of insurance costs in New Hampshire that could happen again.

Gottesman said he testified against the legislation his opponent is pushing because it “doesn’t trust juries to make decisions’’ on malpractice cases.

Gottesman said while malpractice insurance reform is an important issue, he also is focusing on jobs, education and how the state can pay for quality schools. He said Thursday night that he spent the evening at the city’s downtown Halloween festivities because he thought it was more important than holding news conferences that few people attend.

Experts question whether there is any connection between medical malpractice settlements and health insurance premiums, he said.