Lobbyists for the West Virginia Medical Association want legislators to
consider a system Maine uses to screen all malpractice lawsuits.
A panel that includes both a doctor and a lawyer reviews each
its leading insurer believe the panel system has cut down on the number of
"I personally feel that it serves the common good," said Michael
McCall, vice president of Medical Mutual Insurance Co. of Maine. "The
Lawyers for people hurt by doctors allege it has wrongly
prevented patients from being justly compensated.
"It is a nightmare," said Robert J. Stolt, a Portland lawyer. "Its
principal accomplishment has been to deny a remedy for people who have
Maine's plan was passed after a campaign alleging that a "medical
malpractice crisis" was driving doctors from that state.
Maine legislators were told that most of Maine's doctors were being
dismissed as meritless. The plan's supporters blamed this climate for
The same allegations have emerged from those who advocate that West
Virginia adopt such a law. But a Gazette analysis of West Virginia Board
of Medicine records fails to support such allegations. Maine
lawyers say they never saw any research supporting the allegations
"We're a small state, so they made it down-home and personable. They
Stolt and other lawyers find several faults with the panel
court-appointed panel chairman who then picks a lawyer and a doctor -
preferably a doctor of the same specialty as the doctor being sued.
"There aren't many specialists, and the doctors pretty much know each
other," Stolt said. "As a plaintiff's lawyer, you start on the theory that
you're one vote behind."
McCall noted that both sides in a claim have to approve the panelists,
though they must have "good cause" to have a panel member removed. He also
been raised. "Both sides of the aisle [in the Legislature] are meeting in
committees to address this."
The panel cannot award damages or dismiss claims. Instead, it answers
at least two questions: whether the doctor was negligent, and whether this