Judge Silver sees success in fast-tracking cases in Brooklyn
Hon. George J. Silver took over as the deputy chief administrative judge for the New York City Courts in July and he’s already having an impact on the court system through a program that has been fast-tracking cases.
The citywide program, which is part of Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s Excellence Initiative, partners the courts with insurance companies and plaintiffs to identify cases ripe for settlement and attempts to close them out quickly.
“A lot of these cases are in the preliminary stages where you need depositions, physicals, discovery and all of that is being circumvented,” Silver said. “The carrier is taking realistic views of cases where they can resolve and the plaintiffs are as well. The whole key is identifying a case. Why wait until the end, until a case is on the calendar?
Silver was in Brooklyn Supreme Court on Friday as part of this program. He and Justice Kenneth Sherman worked with both the insurance companies and attorneys to see how the two sides can make progress on the cases. They heard roughly 20 cases in the morning, 20 at night and the bulk of the cases were successfully settled.
That success rate was no fluke, either. The program started in August and on the first day, Silver and Sherman were able to settle approximately 80 percent of their cases (23 out of 28) and the cases that were not settled experienced serious progress.
The program was met with equal amount of success in Staten Island, where 75 percent of cases were settled on the first day, and in the Bronx, which was close to 90 percent.
The majority of these cases are in the early stages and all of them, for now, are cases that are being handled by the AmTrust Financial insurance company. They’re cases that the company has earmarked as having merit and they go before Silver and work with plaintiffs to settle them.
“It’s been a big plus for us,” said Jim Vendetto, a claim manager at AmTrust. “It gets us in front of a judge and with their guidance we are able to move a case along so much faster. Some of these cases could have sat for four or five more years.”
When insurance companies are happy that is generally not good for plaintiffs, but in this instance, attorneys for the plaintiffs also see this as a positive.
“It’s past the point of the question of if there is merit or not and they are interested in moving these cases,” said attorney Gary Lesch. “Once you get an insurance company that is interested in moving these cases, it is going to work. Usually it’s the opposite, where you are trying to move a case and the insurance company is waiting until trial.”
Lesch explained that he has already cleared a few cases thanks to Silver’s program, and said that even when he and the insurance company couldn’t reach an agreement in court, the meeting helped get momentum going and said that he expects to close at least one more within the next week.
“They’re cutting the length of cases and doing a service to the clients because it shortens their waiting time to about 3 1/2 or four years or to one year, and they’re getting most of the pot without having to wait for it,” Lesch said.
Attorneys on hand on Friday told the Brooklyn Eagle that they felt like such a program might not have been possible without a motivated and fair judge to oversee the process.
“It’s unusual for both sides to walk out feeling that they got a fair shake,” Lesch said. “There are only a couple of judges that are like that and Judge Silver is one and Judge Sherman is another. They’re not just touchy-feely judges, either. Judge Silver is very empathetic, but he also understands the pressure insurance companies are facing.”
Silver started the program with just 350 cases. It has become such a success so quickly that the courts will begin regularly holding these sessions. In fact, he’s already had other insurance companies reach out to him interested in participating.
“We’re changing a culture where people think that you can’t settle a case until it is on the trial calendar, or until a jury is picked,” Silver said. “We’re showing that’s not true. Some cases need to be tried, but these are not the cases.
“We’re not talking about 50 cases, we’re talking about thousands of cases in the whole system, and it ends up making a huge dent in the court’s backlog,” Silver said.
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