Whether accomplished with a nudge, a push or a shove, the first marathon mediation settlement effort for medical malpractice cases in Clark County is working. Out of 61 cases, 31 have been resolved, slightly better than half.
And a few more cases could be resolved this week.
Senior District Judge Stewart Bell, one of the mediation judges, said the litigants in medical malpractice cases benefit by a speedier resolution, because it helps them with closure. "Many medical malpractice cases are very emotional cases, many times someone died, a spouse, a parent, a children. It’s emotionally difficult and draining, sometimes for the doctor too. When you can bring closure to those cases, you are doing these people a huge favor."
While that’s one positive, there’s also a time and cost benefit.
Bell said to try the 31 cases settled so far would tie up one courtroom, a judge and five staff members for an entire year. "Just salaries alone would cost $500,000. To pay the four of us (settlement judges) cost $65,000."
The idea for the marathon settlement sessions came from Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Hardesty and Clark County Chief Judge Art Ritchie while Justice Michael Cherry is administering it, and Bell credits all three as visionaries.
Solving cases through mediation eliminates the current 18-month wait for a trial date and saves costs for litigants, Ritchie said.
While settling at least 31 cases is cause for celebration, Ritchie said there are still 400 pending cases in Clark County, partly because of the mass of endoscopy cases.
"It’s the first time we’ve had a monthlong settlement conference marathon, where judges in teams of two worked to settle cases. We hoped it would be successful and I’m very relieved and happy about how successful it is. We’ll do this again in November," Ritchie said.
As part of the state’s tort reform effort, the law requires that medical malpractice cases must be resolved within three years. The push is on to settle cases, especially since the cases involving hepatitis contamination from Las Vegas endoscopy clinics aren’t expected to settle.
Bell and District Judge Sally Loehrer served together on one mediation panel. "Here were two objective views with over 75 years of experience," he said. Yet they couldn’t settle every case before them.
"Sometimes doctors want to go to court and prove they didn’t do anything wrong," Bell said. "Sometimes the doctor is willing to consent and the insurance company thinks it’s going to win and doesn’t want to settle."
One experienced attorney told me settlement conferences work best when the two parties start feeling the pinch of legal fees, or when they start to despise their own attorneys more than the other side.
Apparently a couple of hundred thousand in attorney fees can help settlements move right along.
And greed can kill a settlement.