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If there's anything that injured plaintiffs and hospitals can agree on, it might be that medical malpractice lawsuits are time consuming and costly. Medical care providers, patients, and policy makers have all argued for medical malpractice reform.
Their wish may be granted soon, if a pioneering new approach by a New York judge takes hold.
Judge Douglas E. McKeon, an administrative judge in the Supreme Court of Bronx County, started his approach in 2002 when he made an agreement with the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation. The corporation operates 11 public hospitals. The program has been funded in part by a $3 million grant from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
His method is called "judge-directed negotiation," and at is relatively simple at its core.
A judge with medical expertise is appointed to a specific case. This judge stays with the case through its entire process. The appointed judge will also ensure that the parties come together as often as possible in order to come to a mutually acceptable settlement.
In contrast, current malpractice suits may be presided over by any number of different judges throughout the lifetime of the case. Settlement discussions typically don’t occur until deep into the process.
Under Judge McKeon’s method, the Washington Post reports that a typical case settles sometime between 6 to 9 months. For traditional malpractice suits, the settlement time is much longer: 3 years.
This new method also doesn’t mean plaintiffs have to settle. If they don’t agree with terms, they are free to continue pursuing their lawsuit in court.
For now, the New York program could serve as a model for a new way to settle medical malpractice lawsuits. And it could be the medical malpractice reform that proponents have been advocating for. The grant received by the New York program was one of seven granted by the Obama administration.