Judge-Directed Negotiation Encourages Early Medical Malpractice Settlements

Medical malpractice litigation can be costly and time-consuming. Doctors may settle merely to lower costs or to avoid public embarrassment. A new method of negotiation recently put into practice in New York, called judge-directed negotiation, aims to lower costs to both parties in a medical malpractice claim.

This type of negotiation uses a judge with some medical training in place of a jury. Patients can settle within months, rather than years. New York State Supreme Court Judge Douglas E. McKeon started this alternative method in 2002 in Bronx County.

The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has recently issued a $3 million grant to further fund the program. While still limited, the success of the program, which uses existing courts, doesn't require any new legislation and reduces the burden on the court system, is beginning to be implemented throughout the state.

Proponents of judge-directed negotiation say it is a model that can be implemented nation-wide. Originating in a Bronx courtroom, the program has expanded to Manhattan and Brooklyn, and began in Buffalo this past fall.

The Negotiation Starts Immediately

One of the main benefits to both parties is that there is a push towards settlement immediately, rather than having both parties conduct lengthy discovery and depositions. It also requires fewer expert witnesses (and their high costs) since the judge is familiar with many aspects of medical malpractice claims.

While the judge pushes each party to settle, he or she does not actually offer a settlement amount. If the parties cannot reach a settlement, the injured party is still free to pursue the case in court.

The program has lowered payouts in medical malpractice claims. The New York Times reports The New York Health and Hospitals Corp., which originally partnered with Judge McKeon to begin the program for its 11 public hospitals in 2002, has had payouts reduced by an average of $139,000 from 2003 to 2010. While a lower settlement amount, many injured patients would rather have the money early, as is often the case in judge-directed negotiation, rather than spend years in litigation for slightly more money.

If you are interested in judge-directed negotiation, contact an experienced professional negligence defense attorney to discuss your options.