Sometimes it’s difficult to remember or maybe it’s just easy to forget that legislation can impact somebody’s life, but Sylvester Traylor felt it was important to come to the Capitol Friday and thank lawmakers for taking the first step toward helping him find justice for his deceased wife.
Traylor has been engaged in a legal battle ever since his wife took her own life seven years ago.
The New London man, who has had minimal success with a medical malpractice case he filed against his wife’s psychiatrist, alleges that the psychiatrist failed to return his phone calls seeking help. The antidepressants she was prescribed had an adverse effect, he said. A few weeks later in March 2004, she took her own life.
Traylor has been fighting to change how medical malpractice lawsuits are brought in the state. He said his case is an example of the hurdles someone needs to clear in order to obtain a “certificate of merit” in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
He said the judicial system says you need to get a letter from another doctor in the same medical field confirming that the allegations in a medical malpractice lawsuit have merit. But that letter, which a second judge threw out on a technicality in Traylor’s lawsuit, costs around $10,000 to initiate.
“The way it’s written now it’s violating people’s due process rights,” Traylor said. “Even if you have a legitimate case and you have a letter from a doctor they can still dismiss it.”
Standing outside the Capitol Friday, Traylor said the bill the House passed last week will help him begin to find justice for his wife by making certificates of merit, the first step in a medical malpractice lawsuit, more difficult for judges to dismiss.
Rep. Ernie Hewett, D-New London, said he was happy his vote could make a difference and Mr. Traylor’s voice could be heard.
The bill the House passed 87 to 51 expands the types of health care providers who may provide a pre-litigation opinion letter concerning evidence of negligence in a medical malpractice lawsuit.
The bill is supported by the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association, which testified back in March that the current law sets a higher standard for a certificates of merit than it does for an expert witness that testifies in court. They said a medical expert who is not able to sign a pre-litigation letter would be allowed to testify as an expert in court. They said this bill will remedy this contradiction.
It’s no surprise that medical professionals and hospitals oppose the bill.
Michael Rigg, a lawyer who represents hospitals and doctors, told the Judiciary Committee that if they adopt this bill they are inviting an increase in frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits.
Rigg said when a challenge to the current law went before the Supreme Court, the justices decided that if the certificate of merit wasn’t written by someone from a similar medical background then the case should be dismissed without prejudice and could be filed again up to one year later. He said if the negligence was committed by a nurse, then the certificate needs to be from a nurse. If it was committed by an orthopedic surgeon, then the certificate should be from an orthopedic surgeon.
“The Bennett case involved a situation where the attorney sued an ER physician, so naturally he went out and got an opinion from a surgeon. That’s what he did,” Rigg said. “And the supreme court said, even though you did that you still get to a second bite of the apple. You can go back and fix it. You get to re-file the lawsuit.”
“So I’m not sure what this is in response to, what the injustice is,” Rigg said.
He said the legislature is looking to fix a system that’s not broken.
The Judicial Branch agrees. In its testimony to the Judiciary Committee, it said the bill would require the branch to put significantly more resources into a lawsuit which could have been dismissed much earlier in the judicial process.
The bill awaits action in the Senate.