New York State received a $3 million federal grant to implement a test program designed to encourage early (or earlier) settlement of medical malpractice cases. The program requires that a judge with training in medical issues be assigned at the beginning of a case and frequent settlement conferences be held. A nurse with legal training assists the judge and lawyers must arrive with authority to settle the case. The injured party is not present and there is no jury.
The program intially began in the Bronx in cases against city hospitals and is presently being expanded to courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan, as well as to cases against private hospitals. The program is slated to begin in Buffalo courts in the fall.
Advocates of the program say it cuts down on time and costs of litigation for injured patients and defendants. Opponents of the program say it pressures attorneys to take a settlement amount that is less than fair. The important question is whether the system can save money and still accomplish the right results.