Kentucky is making a top priority out of medical liability reform. Earlier this month, Kentucky introduced Senate Bill 119 which would establish medical review panels “for use in civil litigation relating to health care providers.” This bill is similar to one that Kentucky introduced in 2012, applying only to long-term care facilities, that never made it out of the committee. Senate Bill 119 would apply to all health care professionals and proposes that an independent three member expert panel be created to review evidence in medical malpractice cases. Most recently, Senate Bill 119 was approved by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
The process would be triggered when a plaintiff files a complaint asserting claims of medical malpractice. The parties then jointly select a chairperson, an attorney, to record expenses. The plaintiff and defendant each select an expert and then jointly select a third expert panelist that is agreed to by the other two experts already on the panel. The panel would then review the evidence and render a nonbinding medical opinion within six months regarding the standard of care; findings of fact or conclusions or law would not be rendered by the panel. Regardless of the panel’s opinion, either party may call one of the expert panelists to testify in court. The medical opinion of the panel is admissible. The attorney chairperson then submits the recorded expenses to the party which receives a favorable opinion and the process is concluded.
The bill is not intended to deny plaintiffs access to the court system or to their day in court. The panel would be intended to reduce the number of frivolous cases. Regardless of the panel’s finding, a medical malpractice suit can progress through the justice system. Additionally, future plaintiffs will not be economically burdened by having his or her case reviewed by the panel. Because the panel is not rendering findings of fact or conclusions of law, the panel’s medical opinion is not binding on any jury.
Those in support of the bill include Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson, Care First Kentucky Coalition, and the Kentucky Medical Association. These proponents are in support of the bill in an effort to decrease the number of Kentucky doctors leaving the state due to increased medical liability insurance. They further support the bill due to the drastic increase in medical costs from medical malpractice filings.
Those in opposition believe that the passage of the bill will delay the civil justice system and will not improve the medical care for Kentucky residents. Kentucky AARP volunteer President Jim Kimbrough spoke against the bill at the meeting before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.
The introduction of Senate Bill 119 is Kentucky’s way of catching up to other states in the same part of the country that have already enacted measures to address medical malpractice cases. More specifically, Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, and Virginia have set caps on damages. Indiana also utilizes a similar expert medical panel to review medical malpractices cases. Furthermore, Illinois has set a cap on attorneys’ fees. The passage of Senate Bill 119 would allow Kentucky to safeguard itself against frivolous medical malpractice claims similar to those states that surround it.