A bill favoring plaintiffs in malpractice cases passed the Joint Judiciary Committee in Connecticut on April 12. Out of 44 committee members, 28 voted in favor of the bill and 16 voted against it.

The bill was supported by trial lawyers and opposed by the state medical society, hospital association, physicians and other medical organizations because it would make it easier to win a malpractice lawsuit.

Called the Certificates of Merit bill, the act if passed would change the wording of a 2005 statute. The statute as passed in 2005 established a “certificate of merit” for malpractice lawsuits. The 2005 law defined the wording regarding witnesses who provide expert testimony. The 2005 act required that to have a certificate of merit meant that the expert witness testimony needed to be by a healthcare provider “similar” to the provider being sued. In part, the act was meant to decrease the number of frivolous lawsuits against health care professionals.

The bill, HB 6687, says that instead of requiring testimony from a “similar healthcare provider” testimony can be presented by a “qualified healthcare provider.” This broadens the definition of who may provide testimony on behalf of the plaintiff.

The Connecticut State Medical Society issued a member alert saying “HB 6687 would weaken PA 05-275 [an existing statute] by changing the expert witness from a “similar healthcare provider to a “qualified healthcare provider.”

President of the medical society and cardiologist, Dr. John Foley explained that if he were sued, under current law, another cardiologist would need to have a certificate of merit. If the law changes, he said, “You could get a podiatrist or a chiropractor or a nurse practitioner or whatever to sign the certificate. It basically eliminates any protection from frivolous lawsuits.”

The president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association Mike Walsh explained to WNPR News the lawyers’ and plaintiffs’ side of the issue.

“The term ‘similar health care provider’ was interpreted in such a rigid fashion that unless you had a doctor who was totally identical in terms of certifications and expertise and all the rest as the defendant, the courts would essentially dismiss the case and throw out the good faith certificate, and that was never the intent of the original legislation.”

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