The Louisiana Medical Malpractice Act requires that before anyone who claims that he or she was injured as a result of medical malpractice can file a lawsuit against the health care provider, the claim must first be submitted for review by a medical review panel consisting of three medical practitioners and one attorney. The attorney does not vote in the panel's decision, but rather assists in the selection of the other three panelists and with the conduct of the panel's activities.
The purpose of the medical review panel is to render an expert opinion on the question of whether, based on its review of the evidence brought before it to consider, that evidence supports the contention that the defendant health care provider (or providers, in the case of multiple defendants). The claimant and the defendant are each allowed to choose one of the three medical practitioner panelists, and those two choose the third.
In rendering its decision, the review panel will draw one of three conclusions:
- The evidence supports the plaintiff's claim that the defendant failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care; or
- The evidence does not support the claim of the plaintiff; or
- A material issue of fact exists about the defendant's liability for a court to consider.
The first and third of these possibilities would be favorable to the plaintiff's desire to file a medical malpractice lawsuit if no settlement can be reached; but what about the second possibility, that the review panel sides with the defendant? What effect does that have?
Fortunately for prospective plaintiffs, a decision by the panel that the evidence does not support a medical malpractice claim does not bar a lawsuit. It does mean that if the plaintiff files such an action, he or she must put up a bond to pay for the medical review panel's costs if the defendant wins at trial.
The practical effect of the medical review panel is not to act as a gatekeeper when it comes to filing a medical malpractice lawsuit,but rather as a means of discovery for both sides. If the panel sides with the defendant, a good medical malpractice attorney can still learn from the panel's decision in order to address any possible weaknesses in the plaintiff's case before going to trial.