Five New York City hospitals will be participating in a federally funded pilot program designed to cut back on medical malpractice costs. The three-year, $3 million program, hopes to lower malpractice-related costs by revealing medical errors early, offering settlements quickly, and using judges to help negotiate settlements rather than have cases go to full blown jury trials.

Four of the five hospitals (Beth Israel Medical Center, Mount Sinai Medical Center, Maimonides Medical Center, and Montefiore Medical Center) will be focusing their efforts on reducing errors in obstetrics. The fifth hospital, New York Presbyterian Hospital, will focus on the prevention of surgical errors.

The pilot program will use judicial mediators – judges who will help patients and families negotiate their disputes with the hospitals. Patients and families will be encouraged to use the new program to resolve issues rather than going through a full trial. Plaintiffs will, however, always have the option to seek a jury trial. According to Judge Judy Harris Kluger, chief of policy and planning for New York State’s Unified Court System, who is overseeing the project, there are some 900 malpractice cases pending in New York.  Early discussion, intervention and settlement could benefit all involved. Judge Kluger specified that parties who opt to use the judge mediators will be allowed to have an attorney present to counsel them during settlement discussions.

Advocates of the pilot program are hopeful that it will result in a reduction of skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums, especially for the obstetrics departments of hospitals. The pilot program is part of a federally funded initiative to encourage hospitals to acknowledge and reduce medical errors.