Kentucky Supreme Court abolishes medical panel reviews

In 2017, the Republican-controlled House and Senate backed a law to establish medical review panels in a move towards tort reform. Health providers most likely to benefit from fewer malpractice suits and lower awards endorsed medical panel reviews.

Not impressed with the tort reform team's assurance that the law would sideline frivolous lawsuits and prevent higher costs, Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd saw the law as an unconstitutional attempt to block citizens' access to the courts.

Medical panel review weaknesses exposed

Republican Governor Matt Bevin signed the measure into law in October 2017. A backlog of over 500 cases flowed into the newly established medical review panel system, causing an overwhelming bottleneck. Frustrated plaintiffs waited in limbo for months to get an appointment with the medical review panel.

Judge Shepherd said the new law is unconstitutional. It provided an illegal obstruction to people's access to the court system. He struck down the law.

Bevin's team filed a complaint with the state Court of Appeals, which allowed the law to proceed while the case was under appeal.

Judgment by the Kentucky Supreme Court

Frustrated by the new law, a plaintiff decided to bypass the medical review system. She hired attorneys to file a lawsuit in the Kentucky Supreme Court to challenge the medical review panel law.

After hearing testimony, the Supreme Court's Chief Justice John Minton's opinion upheld Judge Shepherd. The Court declared the review process was unconstitutional and stated the medical review panel law was "void in its entirety." The Court further agreed that access to a jury trial was a bedrock right for citizens built into the Kentucky Constitution and could not be "annulled, obstructed or restricted."

Appeal to reinstate medical panel reviews unlikely

Shannon Ragland of Jury Verdict Publications said the Supreme Court's opinion was tight and left no room for the legislature to revise the law and attempt to pass it. Their only option would be to petition voters to amend the Kentucky Constitution's Bill of Rights to limit malpractice claims, an action Ragland deemed "a tough sell." 

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