Provisions of State Statute Governing Medical Injury Screening Panels Violated State Constitutional Right to Jury Trial

The plaintiff sued the defendants for medical malpractice. Pursuant to a state statute governing medical injury screening panels, the parties participated in a two-day medical injury screening panel hearing. Subsequently, the panel unanimously found the defendants not negligent because their actions did not deviate from the applicable standard of care. According to the statute, if the plaintiff went to trail, the panel report was admissible into evidence for the jury to consider.


The plaintiff moved for the court to find three provisions of the statute governing medical injury screening panels violated the Separation of Powers Clause. The district court so found. The defendants filed a petition for original jurisdiction.


The Supreme Court of New Hampshire found a subset of the provisions unconstitutional, but on other grounds. Specifically, the statute violated the plaintiff’s right under the state constitution to a jury trial. There was no dispute that the plaintiff had the right to a jury trial in this case.


The statutory provisions were found to deny the jury information that may be critical in its assessment of the panel report. Specifically, one provision of the statute precludes the introduction at trial of “any evidence and statements made by a party” at the panel proceeding unless the evidence and statements are introduced for impeachment purposes or the party who presented the evidence or made the statement agrees to their introduction at trial. Another precludes the parties from asking or compelling an expert, who testified at the panel proceeding on behalf of the party's opponent, to testify at a subsequent trial. Another requires the trial court to instruct the jury that “the parties may not introduce panel documents or present witnesses to testify about the panel proceedings, and they may not comment on the panel findings or proceedings” except under limited circumstances.


These provisions allow admission of the panel report but prohibit parties from challenging, explaining, or putting in context the report. The court held that the statute infringed upon the jury's fact-finding role, and, consequently, deprived the plaintiff of the state constitutional right to a jury trial. Therefore, those provisions of the statute governing medical injury screening panels were held unconstitutional.


See: In re Southern New Hampshire Medical Center, 2012 WL 5349992 (N.H., October 30, 2012) (not designated for publication).