For the first time since medical malpractice panels were put into effect, a New Hampshire jury has ignored the unanimous decision of a medical malpractice panel, which found no negligence on the part of the cardiologist being sued, and ruled in favor of the plaintiff.
The case involved an otherwise healthy 36-year old man, William Landry, Jr., who suffered from two fainting spells in April and September 2004. He visited a cardiology practice three times, where doctors told him there was nothing wrong and allegedly did not perform the proper tests. Landry died a few months later. An autopsy revealed a lesion on his heart, which the coroner believed had developed months before and indicated heart disease.
In 2007, New Hampshire began using medical malpractice panels that consist of a retired judge, a physician and a lawyer. The panel hears evidence in private and does not have to follow typical court rules. Malpractice panel decisions are not binding, and plaintiffs can still seek a jury trial. The process is designed to promote settlement to ease the burden on the court system. If a malpractice panel reaches a unanimous decision, it is presented to a jury for a final decision.
Malpractice panels have been popular with insurance companies and within the healthcare field, but trial attorneys view them as an additional step that makes it more difficult and costly for plaintiffs to bring a case to court. The malpractice panel law was enacted in 2005, but was not utilized in New Hampshire until 2007.
Since 2012, malpractice panels have heard 213 cases in that state. A total of 163 of those cases yielded a unanimous decision, 112 of which were decided in favor of the doctor or hospital.
In the Landry case, a medical malpractice panel unanimously sided with the physician in 2009. Despite this decision, the jury ruled in favor of Landry’s parents and awarded them $1.5 million.
It took four years to bring the case to a jury after the panel’s decision. The plaintiff’s attorney speculated that additional witnesses and evidence gathered between the time the panel heard the case and when it was presented during trial may have influenced the jury’s decision.