Health Courts

Health courts had been proposed as a means to deal with medical malpractice lawsuits. Health courts would be administrative courts similar to those designated for tax disputes, workers’ compensation, and vaccine liability. The courts would be staffed by expert judges with special training in healthcare disputes instead of juries, and rulings would be appealed to a medical-specific appeals court. The judges’ rulings would become precedent that would dictate compensation decisions for similar cases.

Health court proponents argue that health courts would make medical justice more reliable and engender trust between doctors and the justice system. They also contend that health courts would streamline medical malpractice litigation, speeding cases’ progress, lowering legal costs, and compensating more patients.

But health courts also pose several problems, namely that trials heard in a health court will disenfranchise patients. Instead of facing a jury of ordinary citizens, negligent doctors would face a panel of fellow doctors, who would certainly be more sympathetic to their fellow physician.

The premise behind the push for health courts is that ordinary jurors are incapable of understanding complex legal and medical information, and therefore incapable of rendering a fair verdict. But our jury system has worked for more than two centuries – why should we change it to benefit negligent physicians?

The fact is that we just don’t know enough about health courts yet to abandon our historic civil justice system. There are looming questions regarding the courts’ administration and whether the new system would be effective. And ultimately, should we trust a system that denies us our fundamental right to a jury trial?