Monday, June 13, 2011

To Curb Malpractice Costs, Judges Jump In Early

New York Times
June 12, 2011

In Justice Douglas E. McKeon’s fluorescent-lighted chambers in the Bronx, a new way of handling medical malpractice suits was on full, and sometimes gruesome, display. Around a polished wood table, lawyers haggled over the price for a lost nose ($300,000) and the missing tip of a finger ($50,000).

The discussion was like some kind of malpractice bazaar, with lawyers blurting out terrible facts and big numbers.

“Our offer of $500,000 is more than we’ve ever had on a dead baby case,” said Margaret Sherman, a lawyer for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs 11 public hospitals.

The patients were not there, but the lawyers and Justice McKeon — who has better-than-average medical knowledge — were. Cajoling, flattering and arguing, Justice McKeon, of State Supreme Court, worked to bring about settlements long before the cases moved toward trials.

The approach, known as judge-directed negotiation, is seen by the Obama administration as offering states a way to curb liability expenses that have sharply increased health care costs nationally. Getting judges involved earlier, more often and much more actively in pushing for settlements, is its crucial ingredient — evident in the recent session watched by this reporter, one of many that are usually not attended by the public.

New York officials say the program bypasses years of court battles, limiting legal costs while providing injured patients with compensation that is likely to be less than a jury would award but can be paid out years earlier, without lengthy appeals.


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