Five New York City hospitals will be taking part in a pilot program that aims to reduce medical malpractice costs through mediation, avoiding trial, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday. One of the cornerstones of the program is for hospitals to admit their mistakes and to offer potential defendants settlements early on.
While I believe this is an intriguing initiative that could help curb medical errors at hospitals, I share some of the concerns raised in the story by the president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association, Nichlas Timko.
The issues are will the early disclosure and settlement program essentially let negligent doctors and hospitals off the hook for their mistakes, and will this system take advantage of patients who don’t retain counsel.
The pilot program, which starts in the fall, is getting $3 million in federal funding, and “aims to cut the $1.4 billion spent annually in New York State on medical-malpractice premiums,” according to The Journal.
The participating hospitals are Beth Israel Medical Center, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Maimonides Medical Center and Montefiore Medical Center. Four of the hospitals will focus on trying to cut down on mistakes in obstetrics, while New-York Presbyterian is looking to stop surigcal mistakes.
The program will use state “health courts,” where judges will help hospitals and patients negotiate settlements, avoiding such cases going to trial.
State officials stressed that patients can still decide to take their cases to trial, and if they choose the judge-directed negotiations, they will be notified that they have the right to have an attorney at their settlement talks.
It will be worth studing the results of this pilot program. But again, the proper measures must be taken so that patients aren’t railroaded into settling a lawsuit for far less money than they are due.
Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
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