Five New York hospitals will participate in a federally funded pilot program designed to cut back on medical malpractice costs. The three-year, $3 million program is intended 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 focus 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. 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 hope it will result in a reduction of skyrocketing malpractice insurance premiums, especially for hospital obstetrics departments.