Program offers solutions to speed up malpractice suits

If you have been reading our Chicago medical malpractice law blog for some time now, you may have come to the conclusion that medical malpractice is far more common than what you might have expected. In addition, the consequences of mistakes doctors, hospitals and other professionals in the field are susceptible to making when they fail to follow the standard of care can be horrifying.

Fortunately, victims of medical malpractice are protected by certain rights so that they can receive the compensation they need and deserve after suffering serious injuries from a surgery gone wrong or after receiving the wrong medication. However, medical malpractice lawsuits are complex, and without proper legal representation, a victim could spend months or years waiting for a resolution.

In New York, one judge is attempting to find a solution to expedite medical malpractice lawsuits so that victims can settle their cases more quickly and receive the compensation that they need to cover medical expenses and other damages much sooner. Although the program is only being used in a few districts of New York, some believe that the program will serve as a model for other states.

The new program is funded by a $3 million grant from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. If a medical malpractice lawsuit is deemed a good candidate for the expedited process, the case goes to a judge who has expertise in the medical field.

The judge oversees the case in its entirety and discusses the case with all of the parties involved as often as necessary in order to help the parties reach a settlement more quickly. Although the judge does not dictate settlement amounts, and plaintiffs can choose to move the case through the court system if they are not happy with a resolution, cases using the program can take as few as six to nine months to settle.

The program has advantages because it does not need special legislation and therefore can be used in the current court system. Because settlements are reached in a timely manner, victims of malpractice can move on with their lives much sooner and the court system can use limited resources.

Although the program certainly has its benefits, others suggest that plaintiffs may receive lower settlements in the mediation program compared to if they were to let their cases go to trial.

Currently, medical malpractice lawsuits can be prolonged for years due to gathering evidence, depositions, and the lack of a resolution by a number of judges. Discussions regarding settlements are oftentimes left until after a court date has been set. Under the new program, both parties begin discussing settlements much sooner in the process.

Source: The Washington Post, “Judge devises model for resolving medical malpractice cases more quickly,” Michelle Andrews, Nov. 21, 2011

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