If you are thinking about pursuing a medical malpractice claim in New Hampshire, you are probably wondering about the different state laws that might affect your case. In the sections below we'll provide an overview of several important New Hampshire laws on medical malpractice.
All states have very specific deadlines (statutes of limitations) for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit in civil court. These deadlines can be somewhat complex because they may contain as many as three or four separate deadlines.
The first part of the statute of limitations is the standard deadline, which gives victims of medical malpractice three years after the malpractice occurred to file a lawsuit. That means, if you do not file a medical malpractice lawsuit within those three years, you lose your right to sue unless you fall within one of the exceptions created by the other parts of the statute of limitations, which we'll discuss below.
The second part of the statute of limitations is called the discovery rule, which is an exception to the standard deadline in situations where the victim could not reasonably have learned that he/she even had a medical malpractice case. The New Hampshire discovery rule states that, when the injury and its causal relationship to the alleged malpractice were not discovered and could not reasonably have been discovered at the time of the malpractice, the lawsuit must be commenced within three years of the time the plaintiff does discover, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the injury and its causal relationship to the alleged malpractice.
In New Hampshire, a minor child has until the day before his/her 20th birthday to file a medical malpractice lawsuit over any harm that occurred at any point while the person was under age 18.
New Hampshire has other exceptions to the statute of limitations that may apply in a medical malpractice case, depending on the circumstances. For example, in many cases, the statute of limitations may be extended if the defendant fraudulently concealed the malpractice, if the defendant left the state after committing the malpractice, or if the victim of malpractice was insane. The New Hampshire statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases can be found at the New Hampshire Revised Statutes section 508:4.
Some states have caps or limits in the amount of compensation (damages) that can be awarded to a victim of medical malpractice. New Hampshire has no such cap.
In some medical malpractice cases, the defendant may argue that you are at least in part liable for causing your own injuries by, for example, failing to follow the doctor’s instructions. If you go to trial and are found partially liable, that finding will reduce or even eliminate your damage award, depending on state law.
New Hampshire follows a "modified comparative negligence" rule. This means, if you are found to be partially negligent with respect to your injury, illness, or medical condition, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault. If, for example, you were awarded $100,000 in damages, but were found 20% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $80,000. However, if the jury finds that your fault is equal to or greater than the defendant’s fault, then you are not entitled to recover any damages, and your case is dismissed.
In New Hampshire, the parties in a medical malpractice case have the option of having the case heard by a special pre-litigation screening panel, if all parties agree. If the parties use the panel, the case could still go to a regular jury trial, but with certain restrictions. If the panel unanimously votes in favor of either the plaintiff or defendant, and the losing party takes the case to trial, the jury will be informed of the panel’s decision. This law can be found at New Hampshire Revised Statutes Chapter 519-B. For further information about the pre-litigation screening panel, please refer to the statute or consult an experienced attorney.
New Hampshire has also enacted a special law governing early settlement offers in medical malpractice cases. This law was recently enacted in June 2012, and so lawyers and judges are still arguing over exactly what it means for medical malpractice victims in New Hampshire. This law can be found at New Hampshire Revised Statutes Chapter 519-C. Because this law is so new and complex, if you have questions about this law, please consult an experienced medical malpractice attorney.