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Like many states, such as California and New Jersey, and countries, such as Greece, Ireland, and Spain, New York state is in bad financial shape. Some of its wealthiest residents have been leaving, moving to states where taxes are not so punitive, and that puts New York further in the hole.

One of the negative aspects of New York’s functioning has been the ever-increasing cost of medical malpractice premiums. In 2007, it rose by 14 percent. If doctors were to leave New York in large numbers, a doctor shortage would add to the problems. Those premium costs were frozen in 2007 by the state legislature and a task force formed to study them failed to come to any agreement, so no further legislative action was taken.

To be positive and productive, the state health department and the court system have worked together and they have now come up with a way to reduce the cost of medical malpractice insurance and at the same time to compensate victims of medical mistakes more promptly.

Speed up the Compensation Process

The plan was announced on Wednesday this week. The five participating hospitals will inform patients of any medical errors quickly and make an early offer of compensation, if that is appropriate. There will be specially-trained judges to help negotiate these settlements. However, at any time, the injured person can choose to go for a jury trial.

Janet Cohn, deputy general counsel for the State Dept. of Health said:

  • “The patient has the right to drop out of that at any time and say ‘No, I want to go to court. I want a trial.’ No rights are being taken away from any patient under the current law.”

This approach does not solve all the basic problems of the tort system, as Health Commissioner Dr. Richard F. Daines noted.

  • “This was very much what we could do practically, right now, without having to reform the whole system legislatively,” he said.

New York officials estimate that this program will save millions of dollars because it will reduce court costs and attorney fees, which can be very high in medical malpractice cases, as they tend to be time-consuming and complex.

This program will be funded by a three-year grant of $2.9 million from a branch of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. It is based on a system devised by a Bronx County Supreme Court judge in 2004. He presides over all medical malpractice cases involving New York’s municipal hospitals. His efforts to guide cases towards settlement are thought to have saved the hospitals about $50 million each year in payouts and defense fees.

Medical errors are hard to accept when we trust our doctors and nurses so much. Their work is meant to help patients, and when they are proved to have harmed a patient, full and fair compensation should be paid. On the other hand, hospital costs continue to rise for patients and insurance companies partly because hospitals must pay such high defense costs.

Perhaps New York’s program will help speed up the compensation process so hospitals and doctors can put the mistake behind them, work on not repeating it, and get on with treating more patients.

If you have been injured by a medical mistake and would like to learn more about your legal situation and choices, please call or email our office for a free case evaluation.

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