The Kentucky House narrowly approved a bill that will make it more difficult to pursue medical malpractice and neglect lawsuits in Kentucky, putting the bill one procedural step away from being sent to Gov. Matt Bevin for his signature.
Under Senate Bill 4, suits filed against doctors, hospitals, nursing homes or their executives would have their merits evaluated by panels composed of three medical providers before they could proceed in court. The panels’ opinions could be entered as evidence in any subsequent litigation.
The measure split the Republican caucus, leading to a 51-45 vote of approval in the House.
One of the staunchest opponents was freshman state Rep. Chad McCoy, R-Bardstown, an attorney who has practiced medical malpractice law.
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McCoy argued for a system that requires an affidavit of merit instead of medical review panels, because he said an affidavit of merit, which many members of his caucus opposed, is more effective than medical review panels. Under that approach, an expert must file an affidavit stating that a claim has merit before it can proceed in court.
McCoy said 10 of the 27 states that passed medical review panels since the 1980s have since gotten rid of them, including Tennessee.
“I’m afraid that Kentucky is going backwards, not forwards,” McCoy said. “We’re certainly not taking the bold step we could have.”
Supporters of the bill, including Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, argued that Kentucky has been losing doctors due to its “litigation friendly” environment.
Others supported the bill because they said insurance rates were too high for nursing homes and hospitals in the state.
“We cannot be like we’ve always been,” Benvenuti said. “We’ve fallen further behind. This is a way of climbing the ladder.”
State Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, opposed the bill as it was written in the Senate and worked with the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, to add amendments Nemes said made the bill constitutional.
Among them: To avoid interminable delay, the panel would have to hand down its opinion in nine months or else the suit could proceed in court; plaintiffs and defendants would jointly pick a lawyer from the region to serve as the panel’s non-voting chairman; and, unlike in the original bill, the panel’s opinion would not automatically be admitted into court as evidence. Instead, the trial judge would be asked to decide.
“If it messes up, we’ll come back and monitor it. Come back and fix it,” Nemes said.
The bill now goes back to the Senate, which is expected to approve the changes made by the House and send it to Bevin.