September 29, 2021 | - News & Insights

Effective October 1, 2021, a single judge will preside over medical malpractice lawsuits filed in Superior Court. S.L. 2021-47 (SB 255) amends G.S. 7A-47.3 to add a new subsection (e):

     (e) The senior resident superior court judge, in consultation with the parties to the case, shall designate a specific resident judge or a specific judge assigned to hold court in the district to preside over all proceedings in a case subjection to G.S. 90-21.11(2).

The Act provides that G.S. 7A-47.3(e) becomes effective on October 1, 2021 and will apply to pending medical malpractice actions, as well as newly filed actions. 

Under the statute, the Senior Resident Judge has two options for appointment: (1) a resident judge, or (2) a judge assigned to hold court in the district.  It is currently unclear whether a non-resident judge assigned to preside over a malpractice action may only hold hearings in the case while assigned to hold court in the district, or whether by virtue of the designation, he or she may hold hearings outside the district in which the case is pending.

As of now, our courts have not implemented a uniform approach governing how the parties will be consulted per the requirement of the statute, or as to how the assignment will take place.    However, this new statute may potentially have significant impact on how medical malpractice lawsuits are adjudicated and evaluated. 

S.L. 2021-47 (SB 255) also amends Rule 51 of the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure.  Specifically, subsection (d) is added:

     (d) Final instructions to the jury. – In civil cases subject to G.S. 90-21.11(2), the court shall reduce the oral instructions given to the jury to writing. Upon the jury retiring for deliberation, the court is encouraged to and may provide the jury a written copy of the oral instructions for the jury to take into the jury room during deliberation.

Thus, per new Rule 51(d), judges are encouraged but not required to provide the jury with a written copy of the oral instructions.  



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