Does Mediation Work Better Than Trial for Settling Medical Malpractice Cases?

From 1995 to 1998, investigators at Wake Forest University School of Law conducted an evaluation of the use of court-ordered mediation as a strategy for resolving medical malpractice disputes.

Investigators conducted the study in two phases:

  • An assessment of the effectiveness of court-ordered mediation in malpractice disputes in 17 North Carolina pilot counties.
  • An analysis of medical malpractice cases in two counties that did not participate in the court-ordered mediation program, in order to add a control group for comparison purposes.

The project was part of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's (RWJF) Improving Malpractice Prevention and Compensation Systems national program.

Key Findings

In an article in Law and Contemporary Problems, investigators reported that:

  • The use of court-ordered mediation does not have a significant impact on trial rates of medical malpractice cases.
  • Of the 202 mediated cases, 25 percent were resolved at the mediation conference and in another 19 percent settlement was related to mediation.

The principal investigators reported the following findings to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) from their study of two control counties that did not participate in North Carolina's court-ordered mediation pilot program:

  • In the two counties without court-ordered mediation, the average time from the filing of a case to its termination was 537 days—virtually identical to the 535 days in the pilot counties with court-ordered mediation.
  • Trial rates were slightly higher in the control counties than in the pilot counties, but the difference was not statistically significant.