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Kentucky's highest court opens door for malpractice lawsuits

In 2017, the legislature of Kentucky approved The Medical Review Panel Act. This required every potential medical malpractice case to be passed through a review panel before it could be heard in court. Three physicians would vote whether the case really involved substandard care. While not binding, their opinions — which could be used in court — could have a chilling effect on any case.

The measure was part of an effort to cut down on what officials claimed were too many frivolous malpractice cases. In effect, however, it created a barrier to the courts for a select class of litigants. Hundreds of medical malpractice suits simply ground to a halt, their progress toward the court delayed at the bottleneck the panel created.

Now, in its ruling dated Nov. 15, 2018, the Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously struck down the law, declaring it unconstitutional. Their ruling was unanimous, leaving little doubt as to the court's view on the subject. As Chief Justice John D. Minton, Jr. wrote in his ruling, "Of all the rights guaranteed by state constitutions but absent from the federal Bill of Rights, the guarantee of a right of access to the courts to obtain a remedy for injury is possibly the most important."

In general, there had been a major push by physician associations, hospitals and nursing homes to put the review panel system in place. They argued that tort reform was needed in order to encourage more physicians to come to the state, improve the access patients have to medical care and decrease overall costs.

However, detractors were quick to point out that these groups were the only ones to actually benefit from the panels. For those who suffered real injuries at the hands of their medical providers, the panel system was a nightmare of epic proportions. Kentucky has a record of some of the worst health care in the nation, especially in nursing homes. It hardly seems likely that making it even harder to sue over poor quality care is really going to benefit the average individual.

If you or your loved one was victimized by a medical provider, learn more about how medical malpractice claims work from a personal injury attorney who handles these kinds of cases.

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