Legislative Update: Change in Connecticut Malpractice Law in Dispute

In 2005, Connecticut lawmakers enacted a statute that required people who wanted to sue health care providers to obtain an opinion from a “similar provider” supporting their malpractice allegations before they could file their lawsuits. If the plaintiff did not submit such an opinion, or if the opinion did not meet certain requirements, the case could be dismissed before the merits of the action were heard. The purpose of this law, which was passed under pressure by doctors, was to prevent frivolous lawsuits and lower skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums. This law had an unintended result of causing a great deal of motion practice regarding the credentials of the pre-suit opinion providers.

Connecticut’s Judiciary Committee recently approved legislation which would make it easier for plaintiffs to find someone to provide an opinion and will most likely lead to increased numbers of medical malpractice suits being filed. The new legislation changes who can provide the opinions from “similar” health care providers to “qualified” health care providers.

Connecticut lawmakers apparently believe that legitimate lawsuits are being kept out of court under the 2005 statute. A recent analysis of the 2005 law found that the number of medical malpractice suits filed in Connecticut were about 290 per year, a drop of about 20 percent. There had been some discussion that the opinion requirement imposes an unfair and costly burden on citizens who can’t afford lawyers. State Senator John Kissel said during a Judiciary Committee hearing in March that “[t]o stop anyone from at least having their day in court is not justice.”

The new proposed legislation is being opposed by a host of hospitals, doctors, and industry groups, such as the American Medical Association. They argue that the legislation will undo the 2005 reform which curbed dramatic increases in malpractice insurance rates. They also indicate that the requirement of similar providers will open the legal system to faulty opinions and more legal challenges to those opinions, as well as deter doctors from practicing in Connecticut.

The Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association and others affected by the proposed changes spoke in favor of the bill, but were far outnumbered by opponents. A member of the trial lawyers group said the proposed bill will address the problem of defendants’ lawyers filing challenges to the opinions in nearly every single malpractice case. The trial lawyer spokesperson also indicated that the bill “will help to ensure that while frivolous lawsuits are stopped early in the process, meritorious cases will not be blocked or delayed by unnecessary and burdensome procedural requirements.

The bill awaits action by the Connecticut Senate. We will closely monitor this bill as it progresses and report any developments.