Over 4,000 medical malpractice suits are filed in New York State every year. These cases are expensive to bring, and often take years to resolve. In an effort to expedite these cases’ resolution, and save money, New York State is implementing a new program on December 1, 2011.
Under the new program, which will be implemented in New York, Kings, Queens, and Erie counties, judges will receive special training about medicine, and medical malpractice litigation. The specially trained judges will then require parties in medical malpractice cases to enter into negotiations early on, in hopes of reaching a settlement.
Hon. Douglas E. McKeon, a judge in Bronx County, began using this process almost ten years in medical malpractice cases where the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation was a defendant. Since 2002, approximately 1,000 medical malpractice cases have gone through judge-directed negotiations, and 95% of those cases have settled. Moreover, judge-directed negotiations have cut the average time it takes to resolve a medical malpractice case from over three years to approximately nine months.
Many people and organizations support New York State’s efforts in expeditiously resolving medical negligence claims. For example, the AP recently quoted Leslie Kelmachter, president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, as saying that judge-directed negotiations are a good way to timely resolve medical malpractice cases, and save all parties involved money. Other proponents argue that judge-directed negotiations have rightly shifted the focus from defensive medicine to emphasizing patient safety. Furthermore, judge-directed negotiations have resulted in physicians and other healthcare providers who have no responsibility for a medical malpractice victim’s injuries being dismissed from cases much earlier than in the past. However, Ms. Kelmachter cautioned, “There shouldn’t be any pressure on the plaintiffs to settle” their claims early. That is because the average recovery in cases going through judge-directed negotiations is much lower than those decided by juries.
More states should follow New York State’s lead, and begin implementing judge-directed negotiations in medical malpractice cases. In Kentucky, any Circuit Court judge may preside over medical negligence cases, no matter whether he or she has handled these difficult matters before taking the bench. If Kentucky enacted judge-directed negotiations, victims of medical negligence will no longer need to wait years before having their day in court, or receive adequate compensation for their injuries and damages.
Read more about New York State’s new program here: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2011/10/31/prsa1031.htm