Personal injury lawyers across Kentucky filed a wave of medical malpractice suits prior to the beginning of July. Courts received approximately 111 cases in the weeks immediately before the July 1 deadline; all cases after must now be reviewed by medical screening panels. Roughly 68 of these 111 suits involved the death of a patient. Larry Franklin, an attorney in Louisville, said that the new law will cost his clients both more time and money moving forward. Franklin believes that the new legislation creates unconstitutional barriers for citizens to exercise their right to trial when harmed by medical professionals.
A key supporter of the new law is Senator Ralph Alvarado, who is a physician. He says that the rise in case filings prior to the deadline is evidence of how lawyers have a strong desire to sue medical providers and facilities. Alvarado cited an instance where a suit was filed against a nursing home although the attorney for the plaintiff had not even received the medical records yet. He is eager for the new law to take effect, hoping that it will begin to limit frivolous medical malpractice claims. Under Senate Bill 4, these suits will encounter a hurdle in the form of panels that conduct a medical review of these claims before proceeding. Alvarado says that he is planning for additional tort reform measures soon, such as establishing limits or caps of the total amounts that juries may award in these actions.
Wanda Delaplane is a citizen who opposes the new law. Her father was a victim of medical neglect at a Frankfort nursing facility that led to his death and she feels that the law will deny or cause delays in many legitimate cases. Her family was awarded approximately $20 million in the case. Those bringing an action must first file their claim with the Kentucky Cabinet for Health & Family Services, who then coordinates the review panel process. The panels consist of three medical professionals and an attorney acting as a chair. The panel is tasked with determining if they feel that provider errors occurred that harmed the patient. The process for review will potentially cover a period of nine months, unless both parties in the case decide to go directly into court.
Betsy Johnson of the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities has been a proponent of implementing the review panels. She says that the advertising from litigation firms seeking clients with allegations of malpractice is troubling. She explained that long-term care facilities are already among the most regulated industries in the nation. Shannon Ragland is from Jury Verdict Publications, which reviews jury verdicts. She estimates that awards for damages from juries occur only 20% of the time in medical malpractice cases. Ragland feels that the medical review panels are intended to be discouraging to those potentially bringing a case.