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Geoff Trachtenberg
Geoff Trachtenberg
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Certificate of Merit Legislation: Arizona's Unconstitutional Barriers to Justice

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Like a number of other states, the Arizona Legislature recently caved to special-interests and adopted a so-called “certificate of merit” procedure for medical malpractice cases, ARS 12-2303. This procedure sets forth a somewhat complicated series of requirements for people filing medical malpractice claims. As a practical matter, however, the statute discriminates against those injured by a medical mistake and presents a significant barrier for those people to access the courts of law.

Although Arizona trial lawyers have not yet had the opportunity to challenged the constitutionality of this statute, other states are starting to address the issue. For example, as Nashville attorney, John Day, reported on his excellent blog, Day on Torts, the Arkansas Supreme Court partially struck down part of that state’s certificate of merit legislation:

The Court ruled that the statute imposed a requirement for commencement of an action that was greater than that imposed by Rule 3 of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court went on to say that “[t]he constitutional infirmity in § 16-114-209(b) is the provision for dismissal if the affidavit does not accompany a complaint within thirty days. We do not hold today that the balance of § 16-114-209(b), requiring a reasonable-cause affidavit, is constitutionally infirm. Having said that, it appears that without the time limit of thirty days, the statute largely is duplicative of § 16-114-206 regarding the plaintiff’s burden of proof and medical expert testimony concerning breach of the standard of care in the community.”

The case is Summerville v. Thrower, No. 06-501, (Ark. S. C. March 15, 2007).