FRANKFORT — Medical malpractice lawsuits can now be filed in Kentucky at any time. But under a bill passed narrowly Wednesday by the Kentucky House, peer review of malpractice cases would be required before they could go to court.
“Medical review panels” proposed under Senate Bill 4, sponsored by Sen. Ralph Alvarado, R-Winchester, would be required to review any malpractice complaint against a health provider before a case based on that complaint could be filed in court. Rep. Robert Benvenuti, R-Lexington, said SB 4 “provides a balanced, unbiased and thoughtful approach for both patients and health care providers” when he presented the bill to the House on Wednesday.
SB 4, which passed the House 51-45, would provide mediation on the “front end” of the medical malpractice process to expedite the process and balance it out, Benvenuti said.
The current medical malpractice process “is not a fast process,” Benvenuti said. “It drags on for years and years and years. (And) it ends by the judge encouraging, or sometimes ordering, mediation. And both sides get more of an understanding of their case,” he said.
Each review panel created under SB 4 would be made up of an attorney chairperson and three Kentucky health care providers licensed in the medical specialty in question. The panel would issue an opinion that includes one of three outcomes—that failure to meet appropriate standards of care was a “substantial factor” in the patient outcome, failure to meet those standards was not a substantial factor in the patient outcome, or that evidence doesn’t show a failure to meet appropriate standards. That opinion could then be used as evidence in court.
Only by agreement of all parties could a case bypass a medical review panel and go directly to court, the bill states.
Among those speaking against the bill was Rep. Alan Gentry, D-Louisville, who told the House that he has spent a lot of time researching the issue of medical review panels.
“After all my research,” he said, “I did one thing: I took that pile of research and I threw it straight in the trash. Why? Because I came to the simple logical conclusion. We already have a panel. It’s called a jury. A jury made up of the people from all walks of life—the foundation of our American judicial system. We don’t need a second panel.”
SB 4 now returns to the Senate for final passage.