March 28. 2012 5:27PM

Senate approves malpractice bill

By TED SIEFER, State House Bureau

CONCORD -- The Senate has passed a bill aimed at providing an alternative means of settling medical malpractice claims.

The Senate voted 18-5 in favor of Senate Bill 406, which would a establish an “early offer” program for patients and their families who suffer injury or death due to a medical procedure.

New Hampshire would be the first state in the country to adopt the program, under which patients could get a settlement within 90 days. The settlement would entail payment of lost wages, medical costs and an additional payment based on the severity of the injury, from $1,700 for minor harm to $117,500 for grave harm or death. Participation in the program would be voluntary for patients. The process would be administered by the state Insurance Department.

Supporters say it will reduce the cost, risk, stress and time of malpractice cases, which take an average of four years to reach resolution in New Hampshire.

Opponents, however, have argued that the bill favors hospitals and insurers. Under the bill, a patient who is dissatisfied with the “early offer” settlement would face a higher burden of proof than they otherwise would have in pursuing a lawsuit.

The bill now goes to the House.