As Kerry mentioned in his post on Alternative Dispute Resolution, going to trial can be an exhaustive, emotional marathon for victims of medical malpractice. Cases can take several years to play out, keeping plaintiffs on edge the whole time as they deal with the intense emotions and stress that each twist and turn in the case brings.
For this reason, many medical malpractice cases are voluntarily settled out of court, through negotiations in which both sides discuss settlement options in an attempt to avoid the courtroom. Although an out of court settlement can considerably lessen the length of the case, the negotiation process itself is often riddled with time-consuming delays and discussions. The pretrial discovery phase alone could take months, even years, as depositions are taken and evidence is gathered. Multiple judges can become involved and the process becomes a tangled affair
That’s why I am interested in a new model for resolving cases that has been implemented—effectively, I think—in New York state. This new model has seen the length of medical malpractice cases decrease from years to an average of 6-9 months.
This new model (originally conceived by a trial judge) appoints a judge with expertise in medical malpractice to oversee each new malpractice case. The judge serves as the point person for all discussions and settlement negotiations, and ultimately works to encourage both parties to settle quicker.
The judge ensures both parties don’t dawdle, keeping an eye on settlement and working to lessen the difficult and lengthy process of litigation. These settlements often result in more money for the plaintiffs, since legal costs drop considerably as negotiation times are shortened.
It’s an interesting model, and states across the country should keep a close eye on the real, practical benefits of this program and whether it would make sense to institute a similar program in Maryland.