In Wyoming, as in every state, a medical malpractice lawsuit can be a considerable undertaking, especially compared to other kinds of civil claims. The medical and legal issues in these kinds of cases are complex, first of all. A medical malpractice lawsuit involves the introduction of extensive health records, as well as the in-depth testimony of numerous experts. And in most states, Wyoming included, the injured patient must comply with certain procedural rules right at the outset of the case.
In this article, we'll summarize one of the most important of these rules in Wyoming: the "Medical Review Panel" process that most medical malpractice claims must go through before a medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed in the state's courts.
The Wyoming Medical Review Panel
Before you can file a medical malpractice lawsuit in Wyoming's courts, you must file a claim with the Wyoming Medical Review Panel, and have the panel issue a decision on the merits of your claim. This requirement, spelled out at Wyoming Statutes section 9-2-1518, is intended to prevent the filing of medical malpractice lawsuits "where the facts do not permit at least a reasonable inference of malpractice" and to facilitate "fair and equitable disposition" of valid injury claims against health care providers. In other words, this is a procedural safeguard that has been put in place as part of tort reform efforts, which seek to discourage the filing of frivolous injury-related lawsuits, and keep down the rising costs of health care providers' liability insurance.
The Medical Review Panel process acts as something of a prerequisite for the filing of a medical malpractice lawsuit against a health care provider or health care facility in the state (subject to the exceptions covered in the next section).
According to section Wyoming Statutes section 9-2-1519, the claim process goes like this:
The injured patient submits a claim to the Medical Review Panel, in writing, and signed by the patient and his/her attorney, which includes:
- a reasonably detailed statement of the health care provider's action (or inaction) that is alleged to rise to the level of malpractice, including dates of the conduct, names and addresses of all health care providers who had relevant contact with the patient, and the names of witnesses; and
- an authorization for the release of the patient's medical records, to the extent that they relate to the allegations against the health care provider.
The health care provider answers the patient's claim within 60 days. If no answer is filed, then the patient is free to skip the remainder of the Medical Review Panel process and file a medical malpractice lawsuit in court.
Within 60 days of the health care provider's answer, the patient must submit a statement, signed by a medical expert "in the same specialty or subspecialty of medical practice at issue", in which the expert lays out the basis for his or her belief that the health care provider committed malpractice.
(Learn more: Do I Have a Medical Malpractice Case?)
The Medical Review Panel (which typically consists of two health care professionals, two attorneys, and one layperson) holds a hearing (usually within 120 days of the patient's submission of the expert's statement) at which evidence is considered, witnesses are heard from, and documents are reviewed. Then, the panel decides, by majority vote, whether there is:
- substantial evidence that the health care provider committed malpractice in treating the patient, and
- a reasonable probability that the patient was injured by that malpractice.
The Medical Review Panel's decision is not binding on the parties, but if a lawsuit is filed, the court has the discretion to decide whether to admit aspects of the panel's proceedings.
Exceptions to the Medical Review Panel Process
Wyoming Statutes section 9-2-1518 says that, before a medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed in Wyoming, a claim must be filed with the Medical Review Panel, unless:
- the injured patient and the health care provider have a valid agreement to submit the dispute to arbitration
- all parties have agreed to waive the Medical Review Panel hearing, or
- the medical malpractice lawsuit was filed before July 1, 2005.
More Information on Wyoming Medical Malpractice Cases
Besides the Medical Review Panel process we've discussed in this article, a Wyoming medical malpractice plaintiff also needs to be aware of -- and be in compliance with -- the lawsuit filing deadline set by the Wyoming medical malpractice statute of limitations.
For more details on the Medical Review Panel process and anything else related to Wyoming medical malpractice cases -- and of course, for legal advice tailored to your situation -- it may be time to talk with an experienced Wyoming medical malpractice lawyer.