New Hampshire Medical Malpractice Laws

If you're filing a New Hampshire medical malpractice lawsuit, understand the state laws that could have a big impact on your case.

Before you decide to file a medical malpractice lawsuit in New Hampshire, be aware that these cases are notoriously complex. Strict procedural rules need to be obeyed, volumes of medical records need to be sifted through and analyzed, and the plaintiff's "burden of proof" is substantial. In this article, we'll take a look at the New Hampshire statute of limitations deadline for medical malpractice lawsuits, the pre-trial screening panel review process, and more.

The New Hampshire Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations

First, some background for readers who may not be fluent in the language of "legalese": A statute of limitations is a state law that sets a limit on the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit.

Like a lot of states, New Hampshire has a specific statute of limitations that applies to medical malpractice lawsuits. But that law, which is codified at New Hampshire Revised Statutes section 507:C-4, has been ruled unconstitutional by the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

So, New Hampshire’s statute of limitations for personal injury cases now applies to medical malpractice lawsuits. This law, which you can find at New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated section 508:4, says that any personal injury action must be brought "within three years of the act or omission complained of" -- in a malpractice case, that means the commission of the medical error -- "except that when the injury and its causal relationship to the act or omission were not discovered and could not reasonably have been discovered" right away, the three-year time period does not start until the plaintiff discovers, "or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered" the occurrence of the defendant’s malpractice.

Keep in mind that if you are relying on the "discovery" portion of the statute, as the plaintiff you have the burden of proving that you did not discover -- and you could not reasonably have been expected to discover -- the occurrence of the underlying malpractice until you actually did.

So, what happens if you try to file your medical malpractice lawsuit after New Hampshire’s statute of limitations deadline has already passed? It’s a safe bet that the doctor or health care facility you’re trying to sue will file a legal motion asking the court to dismiss the case, the court will grant the request, and that will be the end of your lawsuit. So, it’s easy to see why it’s important to pay attention to the New Hampshire statute of limitations and understand the deadline as it applies to your situation.

Pre-Trial Review of New Hampshire Medical Malpractice Claims

New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated section 519-B:1 says: "Claims for medical injury should be resolved as early and inexpensively as possible to contain system costs... Meritorious claims should be identified as quickly as possible, as should non-meritorious claims." For that reason, New Hampshire requires that, within 14 days after the filing of a medical malpractice lawsuit in the state's civil court system, a screening panel must be formed so that the merits of the plaintiff's allegations can be considered.

New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated section 519-B:3 sets out all the details of these panels -- including how members are selected, how they may be excused, and how they can be challenged by the parties to the lawsuit.

But once formed, and within six months of the filing of the lawsuit, the panel will hold a hearing and consider evidence from both sides -- including medical records, test results, deposition transcripts, and any other form of evidence -- and decide:

  • whether the plaintiff's claims amount to a "deviation from" the applicable medical standard of care by the health care provider being sued
  • whether that provision of sub-standard care caused or contributed to the plaintiff's claimed harm, and
  • if the defendant health care provider is found to be at fault, the impact of any corresponding fault on the part of the injured patient.

A few more notes:

  • If the panel's opinion is unanimous, the findings might be admissible at trial. So, if the panel unanimously finds that the provider's mistake was the sole cause of the plaintiff's injuries, the provider's insurer will be pretty motivated to settle rather than have a jury hear that conclusion.
  • If all parties agree, the screening panel process can be waived.
  • The parties can agree to make the screening panel's determination binding and final, so that the right to take the case to trial is effectively waived.

No Medical Malpractice Damages Cap in New Hampshire

A number of states have legislated a "cap" on the amount of compensation a plaintiff can receive in a medical malpractice case. The controversial impact of laws like this is that, even where a plaintiff establishes the defendant’s liability for malpractice, there is a limit on the actual amount of damages the jury can award, regardless of the extent of the plaintiff’s specific losses.

There is currently no cap on medical malpractice damages in New Hampshire (including on compensation for things like pain and suffering), so an injured patient is free to recover for all financial losses that can be attributed to the defendant’s malpractice. (Note: New Hampshire did have a statutory cap on the books, but it was struck down by the state's highest court.)

This article provides a brief summary of some of the New Hampshire laws that any medical malpractice plaintiff needs to have in mind. If you've got questions about how the state's laws will affect your potential situation, an experienced New Hampshire medical malpractice attorney will have the answers.

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