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Openness, Apologies, & Early Settlement As Part of New Medical Malpractice Plan

Boston.com recently reported on a new effort by various hospitals in the state seeking to change the way the facilities respond to medical errors. Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers understand the good intentions of some of these efforts, but it is important to closely examine the motives and potential outcomes of these changes to the system before fully endorsing any specific scheme.

In this case, the story explains that seven hospitals are participating in a program to offer those hurt by medical errors a swift apology and a possible financial settlement. The goal is to provide more efficiency for the medical malpractice system so that those hurt by preventable medical mistakes can receive fair compensation in a more streamlined manner. We have long been proponents of more openness about mistakes in these situations. It is unfortunate that many families only learn about what actually happened following a medical malpractice lawsuit being filed. The commitment to openness is therefore a welcome decision by these participating facilities. The project is part of an initiative called “Road Map to Reform.”

“The whole system has created secrecy and denial. We are trying to turn things around,” said one retired emergency room doctor who helped lead the effort as part of the state’s medical society.

The medical professional explained that if a medical malpractice case is forced to go to trial, it may take years before a patient actually receives the money that they deserve. Of course, many of these cases settle well-before trial. Yet, when defendants refuse to fairly negotiate or engage in stall tactics, those hurt by medical errors can be unnecessarily forced to wait before fair compensation and accountability is provided.

Openness is a positive step. However, each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm appreciates that this sort of system does raise a few red flags. Most notably, the program calls for medical facilities to conduct an assessment of the situation and then consult with their insurer before deciding what settlement to offer. This can unknowingly trap many patients into accepting awards far less than what they would originally be entitled. Accepting a settlement means that a patient is surrendering their right to sue. That means that a patient should never make that decision without the guidance of a legal professional looking out for their own interests.

To help counter that concern, this particular program has hospitals encourage patients to consult with their own lawyer to ensure that the settlement offer is fair. This is an important step. But it will be vital that the hospitals not refer patients to specific attorneys because those attorneys are deemed to be more favorable to the hospital’s interests. All lawyers are bound by ethical rules which demand they exhibit utmost loyalty to their clients. Yet, there may be some obvious concerns if the consulted attorneys are those recommended specifically by the potential defendants in a case.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

“Early Settlement” Bills Dangerous for Those Hurt by Medical Malpractice

Potential Pitfalls of “Early Settlement” Laws in Medical Malpractice Cases