Purportedly to combat the growing problem of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law (codified at Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 231, § 60B) several years ago, requiring the plaintiff in a medical negligence case to submit an “offer of proof” to a three-member reviewing tribunal after filing a formal lawsuit against a doctor or another medical professional. The tribunal consists of a judge, a physician (or another health care provider), and an attorney.
If the tribunal determines that the plaintiff has presented sufficient evidence to raise a “legitimate question of liability,” the matter proceeds toward trial. If not, the plaintiff has the option of posting a filing bond of $6,000 (in most cases, although that amount can vary) or having his or her case dismissed.
If the case is dismissed, the plaintiff may appeal that decision to a higher court for review.
Facts of the Case
In a case recently reviewed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, the plaintiff filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the defendant doctor and others in federal district court in 2011. The defendant requested that the plaintiff’s claim be reviewed by a medical malpractice tribunal. The case was referred to a state court in Suffolk County, and a tribunal was convened. In 2014, the tribunal determined that there was insufficient evidence for the plaintiff’s case to proceed.
The plaintiff then sought a reduction in the amount of the filing bond. The state court denied his request, and the plaintiff filed a notice of appeal. For reasons not explained in the appellate court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s notice of appeal was not processed at that time, and the state court dismissed the action in 2015. The case was then transferred to the federal district court in which the plaintiff had originally filed his complaint.
When the plaintiff learned that his state court case had been dismissed and the matter sent back to federal court, he filed a petition in a Massachusetts county court, seeking to have his state case reinstated so that he could proceed with an appeal to the Massachusetts Appeals Court. His petition was denied.
Decision of the Reviewing Court
The court affirmed, holding that the state court no longer had jurisdiction over his case. In so holding, the court noted that the federal court sent the case to the state court for the limited purpose of convening the tribunal requested by the defendant. Once the tribunal performed its task, the matter went back to the federal court, and the state court lost jurisdiction. This was true even though the tribunal found that the plaintiff’s evidence was insufficient, and, normally, he could have appealed that ruling through the state court system.
In so holding, the court noted that the plaintiff was not without a remedy. Since no final judgment had been entered in the federal court as to the defendant, the federal action remained “pending.” Once a final order was entered by the federal district court, the plaintiff would have the opportunity to appeal the dismissal of his claim against the defendant, just as he had intended to do, albeit under an erroneous understanding of the proper procedure, in the state court system.
Talk About a Medical Negligence Case with an Experienced Cape Cod Trial Lawyer
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a medical mistake, the knowledgeable medical malpractice attorneys at the Law Offices of John C. Manoog, III, can guide you through the procedural complexities of obtaining your medical records, arranging for an expert witness to review the doctor’s alleged breach of the applicable standard of care, and preparing your case for trial. Call us at 888-262-6664 to schedule a free consultation in our Hyannis or Plymouth office.
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