Medical Malpractice Statutes

Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 231 § 60B. This statute, the medical malpractice tribunal statute, could be the Commonwealth’s most important medical malpractice statute.

If any number of legal misfortunes befalls you — from having a contract breached to slipping on the floor of a supermarket — you have the right to head straight to the court clerk’s office and immediately file suit. But not if you’re a Massachusetts victim of medical malpractice. This statute requires you to present your case to a medical malpractice tribunal before heading into court.

The tribunal is normally made up of a judge, a doctor, and an attorney. (If health care provider accused of malpractice is not a doctor, someone from the health care provider’s profession will sit on the tribunal instead of a doctor. So if the person alleged to have committed malpractice was a registered nurse, a registered nurse will sit on the tribunal, in place of the physician). The purpose of the tribunal is to determine whether your case raises a “legitimate question of liability appropriate for judicial inquiry” or whether you were merely the victim of an “unfortunate medical result.”

In response to the filing of a claim with the tribunal, the doctor who is alleged to have committed medical malpractice is required to file a formal pleading called an “answer” and the tribunal is supposed to convene to hear evidence within fifteen days of the filing of the answer, though it rarely happens in practice that the tribunal meets that quickly.

The tribunal has subpoena power to order defendant doctors and other organizations to turn over documents. The tribunal may also appoint a qualified physician or surgeon to help them answer questions they have about the case.

If you lose before the tribunal, you can still continue to pursue your medical malpractice lawsuit in court. But if you lose, you will be required to post a bond of $6,000, unless a judge orders the amount to be higher or lower, based on either your income or the perceived weakness of your case. If you don’t post bond within thirty days of the tribunal’s ruling against you, the action will be dismissed.

The testimony of witnesses before the tribunal is admissible in a later jury trial. Moreover, if the tribunal rules against you, the tribunal’s decision can be introduced to a jury.

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