If you've been injured by a health care provider's negligence in New Hampshire, you might be thinking about pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit. And you're probably wondering about how the state's medical malpractice laws could affect the outcome of your case. In this article, we'll provide an overview of some of New Hampshire's important medical malpractice laws, including:
All states have time limits, set by laws called "statutes of limitations," for filing lawsuits in civil court. There are different deadlines for different types of cases, but these laws are always strictly enforced. That means that if you miss the filing deadline and try to file your lawsuit anyway, the court will almost certainly dismiss the case. That's why it's so important to understand and comply with the statute of limitations.
Like most states, New Hampshire has a law on the books that provides a specific limitations period for filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. However, the state Supreme Court has ruled that the law is unconstitutional. (Carson v. Maurer (1980).) So now the general statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits applies to medical malpractice claims in New Hampshire. Under that law, a plaintiff (the person filing the lawsuit) has three years to get the case filed in court.
So when does the "clock" start running? In most cases, the clock will start running on the date the medical error was committed. But, like most states, New Hampshire also applies what's known as a "discovery rule" to medical malpractice cases. Under the discovery rule, in situations where the patient's "injury and its causal relationship to the act or omission were not discovered and could not reasonably have been discovered" right away, the patient has three years from the date he or she discovers—or reasonably should have discovered—the malpractice to file the lawsuit. But note that if you rely on the discovery rule when filing your lawsuit, you have the burden of proving that you couldn't have found out about the malpractice before you did.
(N.H. Rev. Stat. § 508:4 (2022).)
As part of their efforts at tort reform, many states have passed laws requiring medical malpractice plaintiffs (or their attorneys) to submit some proof of the health care provider's negligence at the beginning of the case. Under New Hampshire law, the court must form a "pretrial screening panel" to consider the plaintiff's claims within 14 days of the filing of the lawsuit. (This screening process can be waived, however, if the parties agree to do so.) The purpose of the pretrial panel review is to:
The pretrial review panel process typically works like this: The chief justice of the superior court will appoint a retired judge to serve as the panel's chairperson, and the chairperson will in turn appoint one attorney and one health care provider to the panel. (The chairperson can appoint additional members to the panel in certain situations.) Within six months after the lawsuit is filed, the panel will hold a hearing and weigh all the relevant evidence—such as medical records and witness testimony—in order to determine:
If the panel unanimously votes in favor of either the plaintiff or defendant (the health care provider being sued), the panel's findings are admissible if the case goes to trial. Note that the panel's decision isn't final, but the parties can agree to make the panel's determination binding—which would effectively waive the right to take the case to trial.
The pretrial screening process is extremely complicated, and this is only a basic overview. For more details—and for information on how the pretrial screening process might apply to your specific case—consult an experienced New Hampshire medical malpractice attorney.
(N.H. Rev. Stat. §§ 519-B:1 to 519-B:10 (2022).)
Some states have laws that "cap" (or limit) the amount of damages that can be awarded to a plaintiff in a successful medical malpractice case. Most states with these laws cap only noneconomic damages, which can include compensation for what are thought to be more subjective losses, such as emotional harm and pain and suffering.
New Hampshire, though, has no law that caps damages in medical malpractice cases. (The state did have a damages cap law on the books, but the state's Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional.) That means plaintiffs won't face any statutory limits on the amount of compensation they can receive for injuries caused by a health care provider's negligence.