Overriding a veto from Gov. John Lynch, the New Hampshire legislature on June 27 enacted SB 406, establishing the nation’s first “early offer” system for medical malpractice claims. The law establishes incentives for defendants to make offers early in the litigation process that cover plaintiff’s economic losses such as medical bills and lost wages. The early-offer process is at claimants’ option only; claimants are free not to request such an offer. [Kevin Pho; supportive website; trial lawyers’ opposition website]
Importantly, the new procedure also contains pioneering elements of loser-pays in both directions. If a claimant chooses to accept a defendant’s early offer of economic-loss expenses, the defendant will pay an additional sum to reflect a scheduled assessment of pain and suffering, plus the reasonable costs of attorney representation. However, if the claimant invokes the early-offer process but then turns down the offer as inadequate, there is a real risk of a fee shift in the opposite direction:
XII. A claimant who rejects an early offer and who does not prevail in an action for medical injury against the medical care provider by being awarded at least 125 percent of the early offer amount, shall be responsible for paying the medical care provider’s reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred in the proceedings under this chapter. The claimant shall certify to the court that bond or other suitable security for payment of the medical care provider’s reasonable attorney’s fees and costs has been posted before the court shall consider the case.
At TortsProf, Christopher Robinette explains in some detail (contrary to an error-filled screed in a Litigation Lobby outlet) why this adds up to a generally good deal for claimants (who, of course, are free not to trigger the process if they disagree) as well as making the system fairer. “Early-offer” proposals have been championed over the years by Jeffrey O’Connell, the distinguished University of Virginia torts scholar, and by Philip K. Howard of Common Good, among others. More on loser-pays here.
[Research assistance: Cato Institute intern Byron Crowe; cross-posted at Cato at Liberty]
More from John Steele Gordon at Commentary: “This looks like a big step in the right direction.”