Medical Expert Witnesses & Pretrial Screening Panels

In Litigation screening panels on trial: Are they working?, Amy Lynn Sorrel, of AMNews writes:

A well-designed pretrial screening panel does a very effective job of not only getting claims settled faster, but a higher percentage of the system cost goes to the injured patient, and that’s an important piece of this. What you don’t want to do is create another bureaucratic step that doesn’t do anything but create another hoop you have to jump through and another cost you have to pay,” said Robert J. Walling, a partner with Pinnacle Actuarial Resources Inc.

The actuarial and consulting firm conducted a 2008 study of the issue for the American Medical Association, which views the panels as a promising alternative for states that cannot achieve more effective, traditional liability reforms such as noneconomic damage caps. The analysis found that states with screening panels generally had better overall medical liability insurance rates — 20% below the national average — and lower claims costs than states without such laws. States with stronger panel laws also showed a higher percentage of cases that closed without any payout and quicker settlement times.

While a typical claim takes at least two years to resolve, including an average two-week jury trial, screening panels convene and evaluate cases within a matter of months, usually not more than six. A hearing is conducted over a day or two by a committee of one or more physicians, an attorney and a nonvoting chair, who render a nonbinding opinion. Costs generally are shared by the parties or covered by the state. Panel members may be appointed by a court or selected by both sides.

The process offers plaintiffs access to an expert review at little or no expense, Dr. Hoover said. And regardless of the opinion, it does not interfere with parties’ ability to go to trial, where either side can use a panel opinion as evidence.