Mandatory mediation of medical malpractice cases seems to be speeding the judicial process in Madison County, Ill.

When the mandate took effect in 2007, 65 cases were pending. During the next 15 months, 24 went to mediation. Fifteen of those cases (62%) settled.

“Frankly, I’m surprised the success rate is so high — pleasantly surprised,” says Circuit Court Judge David Hylla.

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Cases that failed to settle are now scheduled for trial, but the attempt is not necessarily a waste of time. “We hope that the mediation process, whereby the parties were able to sit together and talk, might enhance the possibility of later settlement,” Hylla notes.

The court does not track how long it takes malpractice cases to get from filing to verdict or settlement, but the average civil case takes 33 months to resolve, according to Judge Hylla. Although most of the cases settled through mediation were only a year or two old, two of them dated back to 2002 and 2003. “Mediation can only reduce the time that malpractice cases are pending in our system,” he observes.

Hylla was among a group of Madison County judges who pushed for the rule, which was adopted in August 2007. First of its kind in Illinois, the rule may be unique in the nation. It requires all malpractice cases to submit to mediation within 90 days after the deposition of all plaintiffs and defendants. The parties choose mediators from among a panel of judges and lawyers.

“There were quite a few skeptics when we proposed this rule. However, I have always believed most people can resolve their differences if they sit down and discuss their positions rationally,” Hylla observes. “Sometimes they may be concerned that initiating discussion is a sign of weakness, and they may need a little push to do this.”