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March 13th, 2013

Arizona High Court Upholds Law Designed to Limit Meritless Medical Liability Lawsuits

Arizona’s Supreme Court yesterday unanimoulsy upheld state law that reasonably requires medical liability plaintiffs to adduce expert testimony in support of their claims from physicians practicing within the same medical specialty as defendant physicians.

The Associated Press summary of the high court ruling says it acknowledges that the expert witness “requirement makes it more difficult to file medical-malpractice suits but is not unconstitutional because the requirement doesn’t flatly prevent plaintiffs from having their day in court.”

The original lawsuit alleged negligence on the part of a University Physicians Healthcare doctor in Tucson when a 17-year-old girl died from blood clots after being hospitalized for other blood clots.

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling remands the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

The relevant state law, A.R.S. § 12-2604, provides in part:

A. In an action alleging medical malpractice, a person shall not give expert testimony on the appropriate standard of practice or care unless the person is licensed as a health professional in this state or another state and the person meets the following criteria:

1. If the party against whom or on whose behalf the testimony is offered is or claims to be a specialist, specializes at the time of the occurrence that is the basis for the action in the same specialty or claimed specialty as the party against whom or on whose behalf the testimony is offered. If the party against whom or on whose behalf the testimony is offered is or claims to be a specialist who is board certified, the expert witness shall be a specialist who is board certified in that specialty or claimed specialty.

2. During the year immediately preceding the occurrence giving rise to the lawsuit, devoted a majority of the person’s professional time to either or both of the following:

(a) The active clinical practice of the same health profession as the defendant and, if the defendant is or claims to be a specialist, in the same specialty or claimed specialty.

(b) The instruction of students in an accredited health professional school or accredited residency or clinical research program in the same health profession as the defendant and, if the defendant is or claims to be a specialist, in an accredited health professional school or accredited residency or clinical research program in the same specialty or claimed specialty.

 

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