OLYMPIA - The state Supreme Court said Thursday that it's unconstitutional to require 90 days notice before suing a doctor, marking the second time in less than a year the court has rejected a legislative attempt to reform medical malpractice lawsuits.
The court’s 6-3 decision said the waiting period violates the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government.
The courts already have procedural rules for filing civil suits, and adding a 90-day notice “conflicts with the judiciary’s power to set court procedures,” Justice Charles Johnson wrote for the majority.
The ruling sides with two separate plaintiffs who had medical malpractice cases thrown out by lower courts over notice issues. Those cases were sent back for further action.
The 90-day requirement was one of several changes the Legislature made to the medical malpractice system in 2006 after voters defeated two competing malpractice initiatives sponsored by doctors and trial lawyers.
The waiting period was meant to encourage settlements in cases that might otherwise head straight to court.
Another reform was thrown out by the state Supreme Court last September on constitutional grounds.
The court said a law requiring injured patients to get a certificate of merit from an expert before suing violated separation-of-powers doctrine and unduly burdened the right of access to courts.
The minority in Thursday’s ruling, led by Justice James Johnson, said the notice requirement didn’t irreparably infringe on the court’s power because it dealt only with the period before a suit is filed.