A state Senate committee approved legislation early this February that would create an autonomous panel to review potential lawsuits regarding medical malpractice. Senator Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester) sponsored Senate Bill 6 with the intention of reducing the number of frivolous medical malpractice suits and the associated cost to medical providers.
However, opponents of the legislation believe that the addition of a medical review panel would hinder justice by adding a complex maze of hurdles for plaintiffs to navigate before they gain access to the most fundamental right that this country offers; the right to a jury by one’s peers. The civil justice system already is painfully slow and arduous. These proposed review panels will likely add many months, if not years, to the process of having a medical malpractice case heard by a jury. The process typically takes several years before an injured victim sees a courtroom now. Unfortunately, catastrophically injured patients often die from their injuries, while waiting for their day in court, because they can’t afford desperately needed treatment. The companies pushing this bill through the Kentucky legislature are well aware that the longer it takes a case to reach a jury always is to their benefit. The more hurdles, the less likely an injured patient lives to see their day in court. It is that simple.
Unfortunately, the proponents of this bill are misguided, misinformed or worse. For instance, Kentucky attorneys and their clients can be subject to a claim of malicious prosecution if they bring a frivolous lawsuit against a medical care provider. In Kentucky, doctors and hospitals have, on multiple occasions, successfully prosecuted attorneys and their clients for bringing frivolous lawsuits. This threat, which many states do not have, alone deters many an attorney from filing a questionable lawsuit. In addition, as Senator Reginald Thomas (D-Lexington) pointed out, judges are already able to sanction or impose civil damages on lawyers for bringing meritless suits.
Along the same lines, a Louisville lawyer testified against the bill, saying, “A Harvard University study, not paid for by trial lawyers, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, concluded portraits of a malpractice system that is stricken with frivolous litigation are overblown. The data tells us that medical negligence lawsuits in this state comprise of less than one half of 1 percent of all civil cases. That’s the data.”
The approval of the committee is a small step toward approval of the legislation. The initiative will next go to the full Senate for consideration. Kentucky has a rich tradition of protecting the rights of the less fortunate. Make no mistake – this bill is the product of billion dollar insurance companies, and their wealthy insureds, who want to increase their profits at the expense of citizens’ rights. Don’t let them do it. Call your representative and let them know that you oppose any attempt to strip you of your right to a speedy trial. Let them know they should oppose Senate Bill 6.
If you have questions about your rights, or have been a victim of medical malpractice, please contact Crandall & Pera Law for a free consultation.