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Medical Malpractice

Medical Malpractice in Montana: The Montana Medical Legal Panel

May 28, 2021

One of the things that make medical malpractice claims unique in the state of Montana is the Montana Medical Legal Panel. In essence, the Medical Legal Panel adds an extra dimension to medical malpractice claims that is not present in other states. Understanding the purpose of the Medical Legal Panel and its procedures is essential to the success of any medical malpractice claim. If you believe you are a victim of medical malpractice, a Billings medical malpractice attorney can help you navigate this process so that you can get fair compensation for your injuries. 

What is the Medical Legal Panel? 

Under Montana law, the Medical Legal Panel is generally composed of three health care professionals and three attorneys who will review your claim. Each of the doctors and attorneys must be licensed to practice and reside in the state of Montana. 

The Medical Legal Panel is somewhat similar to a grand jury in a criminal case. Before a prosecutor can move forward with formal criminal charges, they must prove to a grand jury that there is sufficient evidence to support those charges. The Medical Legal Panel serves a similar purpose – before you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit, you must first submit your case to the Panel to determine that you have a valid claim.

As defined by Montana law, the purpose of the Panel is to “prevent where possible the filing in court of actions against health care providers and their employees for professional liability in situations where the facts do not permit at least a reasonable inference of malpractice.” In other words, the Medical Legal Panel was created for the express purpose of filtering out baseless medical malpractice claims. 

While this is an admirable intention, it does create additional hurdles for those who have suffered harm due to medical malpractice. In addition, if you fail to meet the Panel’s requirements, you cannot move forward with your case. This means that you may not be able to get the compensation you need. Working with an experienced Billings medical malpractice attorney can ensure that you get through this step as quickly as possible. 

What the Medical Legal Panel Does

Before discussing what the Panel does, it may be helpful to understand what the Panel does not do. The Panel does not determine whether the doctor or other health care professional committed medical malpractice. As a result, the Panel does not award damages or compensation. 

The sole purpose of the Panel is two-fold: 

  1. To determine whether there is “substantial evidence that the acts complained of occurred and that they constitute malpractice;” and 
  2. To determine whether there is “a reasonable medical probability that the patient was injured thereby.”

In other words, the Panel’s purpose is to determine that your injuries were caused by medical malpractice and there is sufficient evidence to support your claim. 

Starting the Process

The first step in proceeding before the Medical Legal Panel is to submit an “Application for Review of Claim.” Montana law sets forth the information that must be included in the claim and also requires that you complete and submit completed forms authorizing the release of your medical records and other health information to the Panel. Your case cannot move forward until you submit a complete application. A Billings medical malpractice attorney will know precisely what information you need to provide. 

The Hearing Before the Medical Legal Panel  

The next step in the process is to schedule the hearing. By statute, the hearing must be set by the Panel within 120 days of the submission of your application. You or your attorney will receive notice of the date, time, and location where the hearing will take place. The hearing will be held in “any county the Panel considers necessary or advisable.” If you have any issue with where or when the hearing will be held, you should contact your attorney or the Panel as soon as possible. 

While the hearing is not a trial, it does have numerous similarities: 

  • Both sides will have an opportunity to make statements
  • Both sides can call witnesses to testify under oath
  • Medical records and other pertinent documents will be submitted as evidence

Although the hearing is less formal than a trial, you must take the proceeding very seriously. As mentioned above, you cannot proceed with your case until you complete the process. A Billings medical malpractice attorney can put on a solid case to support your claim and protect your rights. 

The Panel’s Decision

After the hearing, the Panel will consider your case and ultimately vote by secret ballot. The Panel’s decision will be determined by majority vote. The Panel will issue a written decision signed by the presiding officer. However, the decision will contain only the Panel’s conclusion unless either party requests that the Panel explain the reasoning and basis for their decision. 

What is the Legal Impact of this Process?

Finally, there are two aspects of the hearing that are important to understand: 

  1. The Panel’s decision is non-binding. This means that you can proceed with a lawsuit even if the Panel voted against you. 
  2. The proceedings and the decision are inadmissible in court. As a result, Panel members cannot be called to testify in your trial and any evidence used in the hearing cannot be submitted in court.  

Critics argue that the process is intended to simply discourage medical malpractice victims from coming forward. However, the Panel is also authorized to recommend a compensation award and oversee settlement negotiations which can be made binding if an agreement is reached. Whether or not the process is simply a deterrent, a skilled Billings medical malpractice attorney can use it to your advantage.  

Contact a Billings Medical Malpractice Attorney at Ragain & Clark  

Medical malpractice claims are among some of the most complex injury cases lawyers handle. With decades of experience, medical malpractice attorney Jim Ragain can help you make the most of the Medical Legal Panel review process. If you think you have a medical malpractice claim, give us a call at 406-651-8888 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

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