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Owen Coughlin Jr.
Owen Coughlin Jr.
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A complicated law to address medical complications

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New Hampshire recently became the first state to pass legislation on what is being referred to as an “early offer” program for medical malpractice claims. Governor John Lynch initially vetoed the bill, but persistence on the part of the majority of New Hampshire’s Legislature paid off . Veto overcome, the bill became a law on June 27.

“The new law incentivizes defendants in medical malpractice cases to make settlement offers early in the litigation process,” explains Ann W. Latner of clinicaladvisor.com. “Compensation is intended to cover the plaintiff's economic losses, such as medical bills and lost employment, as well as a modest allotment for pain and suffering.”

It is important to note that the early offer program is an option for claimants seeking compensation for a disastrous medical procedure. If a person harmed as a result of surgical errors, post-surgical complications or other malpractice feels compelled to duke it out with a healthcare provider in the courtroom, he or she may still do so. However, if the injured party is looking for a surer path to compensation, the early offer program provides a much more direct route.

In the event that a claimant accepts the defendant’s settlement offer, he or she will receive the amount offered in a few months, opposed to however long a trial may take. If the claimant isn’t satisfied with the amount offered, he or she can proceed to a showdown in court under certain stipulations the new law sets forth. Latner explains that the most major of these clauses asserts that “plaintiffs who are not awarded at least 125 percent of the early offer amount will be responsible for the medical provider’s reasonable attorney's fees and costs.”

So even if the plaintiff wins the case, the possibility arises that he or she may still lose money. In essence, this seems to be the true power of the law in that it coerces a claimant to pursue and accept an early offer rather than battle it out in court at the risk of winning a lesser degree of compensation than the initial offer would have provided.

In my eyes, the new law seems to create advantages and disadvantages on both sides. Surely, it has made the process of receiving compensation in the case of medical malpractice much easier for a claimant. At the same time, however, it appears to offer a great deal of protection to healthcare providers when they make mistakes of varying magnitude. This is nice, I suppose, because everyone makes mistakes – they just don’t always affect a fellow human being’s health – the one thing every living person needs to survive.

So, in summation and in my opinion, the “early offer” law saves time, money and effort for all involved, but it also allows negligent healthcare providers to save face by keeping their mistakes out of both the courtroom and the public eye in the case of a confidential settlement. Lawmakers insist that the law supports the common citizen in his or her pursuit of compensation for medical malpractice, but doesn’t it appear to protect shoddy medical practitioners to a slightly unhealthy degree? You be the judge.