Friday, June 22, 2007

New rules in malpractice cases

New rules designed to speed up medical malpractice cases have been established in Madison County.

The changes include a requirement of mediation in malpractice cases, as well as the appointment of a panel of circuit judges to review those cases.

The changes, announced by Chief Judge Ann Callis Monday, were created by the Medical-Legal Committee formed during the spring to address malpractice issues.

The rules were formed after the committee met with a number of people, ranging from members of the Illinois State Medical Society and representatives of local hospitals to a number of attorneys.

Under the new rules, the court will hold a case management conference in which deadlines for depositions, as well as other legal matters and possible settlements, will be addressed.
Allmedical malpractice suits will have to go into mediation within 90 days of the completion of depositions. A circuit or associate judge not assigned as the trial judge will act as a mediator, unless all involved agree to an alternate mediator.

All parties must attend the mediation sessions and must "act in good faith," and a report from the mediator will be sent to the trial judge.

All medical malpractice suits must also be reviewed by a panel of circuit judges. The Medical Malpractice Review Panel will include Circuit Judges John Knight, Barbara Crowder, and David Hylla.

For all medical malpractice suits involving incidents prior to Aug. 25, 2005, if the court grants a motion to dismiss without prejudice - meaning the case may be refiled - due to procedural issues involving a certificate of merit, the plaintiff will have 45 days to file an amended certificate of merit.

The certificate, which is usually filed at the same time as the lawsuit, but not always, is a document from a doctor saying that the suit has merit.

"The new rules are designed to get them settled without a trial," said Hylla, who chaired the committee. "I think it's going to be very beneficial as long as both parties come to the mediation and bargain in good faith.

"We're very optimistic," Hylla said. "Our goal is not just to push cases, our goal is for just results."

He noted that the mediation will be beneficial for both sides in malpractice suits, in part because of the expense involved because of expert testimony and other matters.

Hylla said the idea of mediating such lawsuits is becoming more common.

"It's going to take a while to see how mediation will go," he said. "(Medical malpractice) is a relatively small percentage of the cases we have, but they are important cases.

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