Profile of the Month – Natalie A. Heineman
Natalie A. Heineman is an Associate with the Seattle office of Forsberg & Umlauf, P.S. Natalie’s civil litigation practice focuses on the defense of medical professionals. She represents health care providers in the defense of negligence and wrongful death claims, as well as in state board disciplinary matters. Natalie’s practice includes defending physicians, nurses, pharmacists, oral surgeons, chiropractors, therapists, dentists, and other health care specialists. Natalie previously practiced medical malpractice and nursing home defense in Boston, Massachusetts before relocating to Seattle in 2015. For more information about Natalie, please see her complete bio.
1. How often do you have cases that involve mediation?
Technically, in each case that I handle the parties are required to mediate according to the case schedule. In medical malpractice cases, however, many of our clients have a consent clause in their professional liability policy, which requires that they provide consent to their insurer before a settlement offer can be made.
If the client feels that he or she has complied with the standard of care, they do not consent. In about 1/3 of our cases, we will get the client’s consent to mediate and we will proceed with mediation. Most of the time, however, we try the cases. If the client doesn’t consent to mediation, then we’re prepared to go to trial. We want to send a message to plaintiffs that we will defend our clients. If we have a defensible case, we will take it to trial.
2. What qualities do you look for in a mediator?
Selecting a mediator can be case specific. For example, I had a recent case with a very sensitive plaintiff whose unrealistic view of the case needed to be managed as delicately as possible to keep the other side engaged. We were concerned that more analytically-minded mediators would shut down the process. We ended up hiring a mediator who had a softer touch. If it’s a complicated medical malpractice case, then we look for a mediator who has the background to talk the “medicine” with us.
Another factor is the mediator’s reputation for getting results. Some mediators can bring folks together, but they can’t quite get the parties to close the deal at the end of day. We want mediators who get it done.
3. How strongly do you push to have a mediator you propose be accepted by the other side?
In all of the mediations I have had—at least since being in Washington state—we have had no problem finding a mediator both sides agree upon.
4. How important is pre session communication with the parties?
Personally, I do not find tremendous value in a joint session with the mediator before negotiations, but that can be case specific. As to the parties’ respective briefs, there are different schools of thought about whether to share them with the other side. There is frequently a lot of posturing that goes into the submissions. At that point, I already know the strengths and weaknesses of the case. At least in my view, it is more important to have a candid conversation with the opposing attorneys to learn how interested their client is in settling. Information pertinent to the logistics of settlement, like the existence of a lien, is more important to me than opposing counsel’s letter to the mediator.
5. How important is it for the mediator to follow up if the mediation doesn’t result in a settlement?
Follow-up post-mediation is great. We’ve often had cases settle that way—cooler heads can prevail with a little time after an unsuccessful mediation. Following-up is a great characteristic of any mediator.
6. What ADR topics would you like to see discussed at an ADR-related CLE?
Strategies that mediators find effective that might not be the standard negotiating tools you readily think of. I’d like to learn about real life examples of non-traditional tools that got a case settled. Confidentiality is another interesting topic and has many facets to explore.
7. Tell me more about your practice…
I grew up in Phoenix, AZ and lived in Boston for eleven years—where I practiced law for eight years. My specific practice area focuses exclusively on medical malpractice: physicians, oral surgeons, chiropractors, naturopaths, dentists, essentially anyone in the healthcare industry.
I’ve changed coasts, from east to west. I am grateful for my time in Boston, but very happy to be back west, and in Seattle specifically. After starting in Boston as a plaintiff’s attorney during the 2008 crash, I was later recruited by a defense firm and found my path—I developed a real interest in medial malpractice. I’m very grateful to have “landed” at Forsberg & Umlauf.
8. Are there any issues or trending topics that you would like to discuss?
I’ve notice that in Washington State the use of video surveillance seems to be prominent here. Video of plaintiffs contradicting what they claim they can no longer due because of an injury can be extremely persuasive. Social media research is another effective tool.