Hoem v. State

In Hoem v. State, 756 P.2d 780 (Wyo. 1988), the Court considered a classification of tort victims who had their right to recover for negligence diminished-medical malpractice tort victims. The Court held a statute creating the Wyoming Medical Review Panel Act violated those victims' equal protection rights. The act created a panel to review all medical malpractice claims against health care providers before such claims could be pursued in court. 756 P.2d at 782. The plaintiff in Hoem argued the act treated medical malpractice victims differently than those injured by the tortious conduct of someone other than a health care provider in that only medical malpractice victims were prohibited from filing a claim directly in court for personal injury. Id. Ultimately, the Court held the Wyoming Medical Review Panel Act denied medical malpractice victims equal protection of the law. Id. at 784. The review revealed the legislature's purpose was to reduce the number of medical malpractice lawsuits and lower insurance rates. Id. at 783. Although the Court agreed the legislature had a legitimate interest in protecting the health of the citizens of Wyoming as well as the economic and social stability of the state, the Court held: "It cannot seriously be contended that the extension of special benefits to the medical profession and the imposition of an additional hurdle in the path of medical malpractice victims relate to the protection of the public health." Id. In Hoem, the Court made it clear that the equal protection violation was found in the disparity in treatment of injured persons, some of whom were required to submit their cases to the medical review panel while others did not encounter that impediment in pursuing their claims. The Court said: "We cannot condone the legislature's use of the law to protect one class of people from financial difficulties while it dilutes the rights under the constitution of another class of people." Hoem, 756 P.2d at 784.