Kentucky Supreme Court Votes Against Medical Panel Law

A recent ruling in the Commonwealth of Kentucky rejected a 2017 state law that would allow for the creation of a medical review panel. The panel, which would have consisted of a group of experts acting as a gatekeeper, would evaluate medical malpractice claims in order to cut down on frivolous litigation by ensuring that the case had merit before it could be filed against their healthcare provider.

KMA and LCAMA File Amicus Brief to Uphold Law

Leaders of the Kentucky Medical Association, which had filed an amicus brief along with the Litigation Center of the American Medical Association, urged the state’s high court to uphold the law after a patient who sought to file a malpractice claim challenged its validity.

Kentucky Medical Association leaders expressed their extreme disappointment in the ruling. “Kentucky now remains one of the few states in the country with no meaningful tort reform, including medical liability reform, making our system more susceptible to higher costs and frivolous lawsuits.”

A History of State Tort Reform for Medical Malpractice

Indiana was the first state to execute medical review panels in 1975. The goal then was the same as it is now: to weed out frivolous lawsuits before doctors and health care systems shelled out a lot of cash to defend themselves against claims without merit. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, since then more than a dozen states have followed suit, implementing some form of a medical review panel, deciding whether the door for each case is opened or remains closed.

Potential Negative Consequences of Law’s Rejection

The law, which was worked on by legal experts and legislative leaders, was created to survive a constitutional challenge, but it was found not to pass the “test.” “Despite this work, the court has chosen to uphold the status quo that discourages physician recruitment, inhibits access to quality health care and increases patient costs, while also ensuring that the litigation process for those who have justifiable claims will remain long and complicated,” said the Kentucky Medical Association.

The court’s decision to strike down the law was unanimous, due to what its justices saw as causing a violation of Kentucky’s constitution by delaying citizen’s access to the courts.

What’s Next for Reform?

Though the 2017 state law was found unconstitutional, several of the justices did not agree with the majority opinion that “any delay to bringing a personal injury or wrongful death action is unconstitutional.” In fact, three of the judges did not necessarily believe that the constitution was meant to be so restricted as to placing otherwise constitutional consistent processes in order for individuals to gain access to the court. They explained that they could not say that “any measure the legislature may create to impose procedural steps prior to the bringing of an action . . . would always be unconstitutional.” So could this leave the door open for a revised law? It remains to be seen.

Posted in: Medical Malpractice