Medical Malpractice: Pre-Litigation Review in Montana and Wyoming
Ragain & Clark December 30, 2022
In most personal injury cases, the plaintiff can file a lawsuit as soon as the at-fault party refuses to pay their claim. In the context of a medical malpractice claim, however, many states have elected to limit the plaintiff’s ability to file a lawsuit by requiring them to engage in some sort of pre-litigation review. Medical malpractice victims in Montana and Wyoming need to understand how these limitations could apply to them and should contact a medical malpractice attorney for advice if they think they may have a claim.
The Rationale for Pre-Litigation Review in Medical Malpractice Cases
In the states that have some type of pre-litigation review, the stated purpose is to weed out frivolous claims in order to reduce the cost of malpractice insurance. In turn, this results in lower premiums for physicians and other healthcare providers, which means lower healthcare costs for patients.
While discouraging frivolous claims and lowering costs are valid purposes, many medical malpractice attorneys believe that it simply increases costs and creates unnecessary delays for those with valid claims. In other words, the cost-savings are then passed on to those who most need fair compensation as a result of medical malpractice. Nonetheless, patients who have experienced medical malpractice need to know up-front whether they must go through some type of pre-litigation review before filing a lawsuit.
Montana’s Medical Legal Panel
Montana has a pre-litigation review process for medical malpractice cases. Medical malpractice victims must submit their claims to review by the Montana Legal Panel before they can file a lawsuit. The Panel is composed of three attorneys and three healthcare professionals, who will review claims with the following two-fold purpose:
- To determine whether there is “substantial evidence” that medical malpractice may have occurred; and
- To determine whether the patient was harmed as a result.
The Panel will schedule a hearing to take place within 120 days of the date that you submitted your claim. The hearing is not a trial, but there are similarities:
- Both sides are expected to attend the hearing
- Both sides have the opportunity to make statements, submit evidence, and call witnesses
At the conclusion of the hearing, the Panel will determine whether you may have a medical malpractice claim by majority vote. The Panel will issue a written decision but will only explain its reasoning if one or both parties request it. After all of that, claimants need to remember two things:
- The Panel’s decision is non-binding, which means you can still file a lawsuit even if the Panel rules against you.
- The proceedings are inadmissible in court.
Even though this review process has no legally binding effect, it can be a powerful tool for settling claims and you should therefore take it very seriously. If you believe that you have been harmed as a result of medical malpractice, you should contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney before submitting your claim to the Montana Legal Panel.
An Important Update for Wyoming Medical Malpractice Victims
Wyoming previously had a similar process where patients would have to first submit their claims to the Wyoming Medical Review Panel. However, legislators voted to repeal the law that requires this step in 2021, and the repeal went into effect on July 1 of this year. This means that patients who have been harmed as a result of medical malpractice can immediately file a suit if the healthcare provider is unwilling to pay or otherwise settle their claim. The Panel will remain active until all pending cases are fully resolved.
This is great news for Wyoming medical malpractice victims across Wyoming, but it is important to emphasize that the repeal of the Medical Review Panel does not mean that it will be easier to prove your case. It simply means that there are fewer obstacles to pursuing your claim. You will still need to prove that the healthcare provider failed to meet the standard of care and that you were harmed as a result.
This is why you should consult with a medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible if you believe you have been harmed as a result of malpractice. Your lawyer can evaluate your case, determine whether you are able to seek compensation, and help you understand your options for moving forward.
Talk to the Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Ragain & Clark
At Ragain & Clark, we have decades of experience in helping medical malpractice victims get fair compensation for their claims. Let us help you rebuild your life – contact us today by calling 307-388-6400 (Worland) or 406-651-8888 (Billings) to schedule your free consultation.