Judge-Directed Negotiations: A Way To Bully Vulnerable Victims Into Settlements?


A new way to handle medical malpractice cases called “Judge-directed Negotiations” may soon be emerging in courtrooms all around New York State. The practice, created by New York Appellate Judge Douglas McKeon, may or may not make hospitals more accountable for the mistakes of its physicians.

Recently backed by a $3 million dollar governmental grant, five of New York city’s best-known private hospitals will join the program and create “an early disclosure program”, which would supposedly require them to own up to their mistakes. Bravo to them if they actually do!

However, according to the Associated Press, using McKeon’s method, cases that are not settled by these hosptials will go to a “special courtroom” staffed by judges trained in a curriculum that McKeon created. The curriculum, which McKeon calls “Medicine for Judges” is still a bit of a mystery.

The Associated Press reported that McKeon sometimes “quietly listens to heartbroken family members vent their anger” and at other times, makes “pointed comment[s] to the lawyers about how the jury could react to their arguments”. While McKeon states that he is bringing “humanness” to the settlement process, this new practice may just be a way for judges to persuade vulnerable clients into settling their cases and foregoing a trial under a guise of concern for their well-being.

A recent case settled with the help of McKeon demonstrates the validity of this argument. McKeon worked for months with a man whose father was paralyzed from the neckdown due to negligent handling by hospital paramedics who were called to help him after he fell and hit his head. Although the hospital was offering a large settlement, the man felt that he needed to go to trial to “do justice by his father”. However, after working with McKeon, the man abandoned his desire for a trial and took the settlement. Although McKeon has stated that he was trying to helping the man and was worried that in pursing a trial the man would have wound up with nothing, was he really just trying to save the hospital money?

Unfortunately, it appears that might be the case – McKeon’s approach has been said to save hospitals up to $50 million dollars a year.