Connecticut Supreme Court Overturns Precedent in Medical Malpractice Claims

A decision from the state’s Supreme Court to reverse a precedent concerning medical malpractice actions could result in trial courts seeing more medical malpractice claims.

judge writing next to the gavel

ByDani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

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Updated on March 30, 2023

judge writing next to the gavel

Since 2011, Connecticut courts have dismissed medical malpractice actions unless the complaint was accompanied by a certificate and opinion letter supporting the claim’s merits. Courts have done so under guidance from the state’s Supreme Court, which held that Connecticut courts have no jurisdiction unless the plaintiff included these documents in the complaint.

In February 2023, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed its position. The court noted that nothing in state law requires dismissal if the certificate and opinion letter aren’t sufficient.

Why Was Connecticut Dismissing Medical Malpractice Claims?

In 2005, Connecticut’s state legislature passed a law requiring plaintiffs to file medical malpractice claims with a certificate and opinion letter from “a similar health care provider” supporting the merits of the claim. The purpose of the new law was to ensure that malpractice claims had some basis in merit when filed.

In 2011, the Connecticut Supreme Court held in Morgan v. Hartford Hospital that the certificate and opinion letter requirement directly affected state courts’ jurisdiction. Specifically, the court held that without a sufficient opinion letter, trial courts had no jurisdiction. Therefore, the claim must be dismissed. Plaintiffs could commence a new action. However, they could not amend a complaint to rectify issues with an original opinion letter.

How the Connecticut Supreme Court Reversed Course

In 2018, plaintiff Shane J. Carpenter filed a claim of dental malpractice against his dentist. In the complaint, Carpenter claimed that the dentist failed to properly diagnose and treat an infection during a root canal. As a result, Carpenter had to undergo surgery to rectify the issue.

In keeping with Connecticut’s rule that medical malpractice actions must be accompanied by an opinion letter, Carpenter attached a letter from an endodontist. The defendant’s attorneys, however, argued that because the letter’s author was an endodontist and not a general dentist, the letter didn’t come from “a similar health care provider” and thus did not meet the requirements in Connecticut law.

The trial court agreed, dismissing the lawsuit for failure to provide an opinion letter from “a similar health care provider.” The Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s holding.

The state’s Supreme Court, however, disagreed. In doing so, the court had to address its own course of action for more than a decade.

Connecticut Supreme Court Overturns Precedent

The Connecticut Supreme Court began by acknowledging the gravity of overturning its own precedent. Yet the court also noted that the principle of stare decisis doesn’t state that the court can never reexamine precedent. Rather, precedent should be reconsidered when, as in Morgan, a prior holding “has created roadblocks for otherwise meritorious cases that are squarely at odds with the legislature’s limited goal of ensuring an adequate, good faith investigation and eliminating only frivolous cases.”

The court noted two key elements supporting its decision to overturn Morgan. First, the Connecticut statute does not state that courts must dismiss claims if the opinion letter isn’t adequate. Second, doing so prevents many otherwise meritorious claims from being heard, subverting the ends of justice.

As an illustration of this second point, the Connecticut Supreme Court cited Kissel v. Center for Women’s Health, P.C. In the 2021 decision, the Connecticut Appellate Court overturned a jury verdict in favor of an injured plaintiff. The plaintiff had acquired an opinion letter—but she had failed to attach it to the original complaint filed in 2012. The Supreme Court noted that the rule had the effect of allowing an appellate court to throw out a case that a jury had already found meritorious.

What to Expect from Future Connecticut Medical Malpractice Claims

The overturning of Morgan surely means that Connecticut trial courts will see more medical malpractice claims. Since the opinion letter requirement still stands, however, it is unlikely that the increase in claims will come with a corresponding increase in meritless or frivolous filings.

In addition, the Connecticut Supreme Court held that the Appellate Court had erred by deciding that an endodontist was not “a similar medical provider” to the general dentist who was the defendant in the lawsuit. The state Supreme Court pointed to the defendant’s own statements, published on his website, that emphasized his experience in dentistry and in endodontic topics.

This portion of the ruling may affect how Connecticut state courts treat future opinion letters. It indicates that “a similar medical provider” need not be one who has identical credentials or training but merely one whose expertise substantially overlaps that of a defendant provider. It remains to be seen how Connecticut’s courts will fine-tune this distinction.

About the author

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D., is a multifaceted legal professional with a background in insurance defense, personal injury, and medical malpractice law. She has garnered valuable experience through internships in criminal defense, enhancing her understanding of various legal sectors.

A key part of her legal journey includes serving as the Executive Note Editor of the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review. Dani graduated with a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 2007, after completing her B.A. in English, summa cum laude, in 2004. She is a member of the Michigan State Bar and the American Bar Association, reflecting her deep commitment to the legal profession.

Currently, Dani Alexis has channeled her legal expertise into a successful career as a freelance writer and book critic, primarily focusing on the legal and literary markets. Her writing portfolio includes articles on diverse topics such as landmark settlements in medical negligence cases, jury awards in personal injury lawsuits, and analyses of legal trial tactics. Her work not only showcases her legal acumen but also her ability to communicate complex legal issues effectively to a wider audience. Dani's blend of legal practice experience and her prowess in legal writing positions her uniquely in the intersection of law and literature.

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