Dealing a major blow to efforts to curb supposedly frivolous malpractice claims, a judge has struck down a new Kentucky law creating medical review panels to screen such cases before they go to trial.
In a ruling Monday, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd found the law passed this year by the Kentucky General Assembly is unconstitutional, because it restricts the right of people to plead their cases in court.
“The effect of the medical review panel process is not the reduction of frivolous negligence claims, but rather, the erection of barriers to the court system,” Shepherd’s order said. “Those that cannot afford the additional delays and costs should not be prevented from pursuing their constitutional right to a ‘remedy by due course of law.’ ”
Shepherd’s order bans the state from enforcing the law that requires a three-member panel of health professionals review medical malpractice claims before a lawsuit is filed.
Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, signed the bill into law, and his administration touts it as “the first step toward tort reform” on the website of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which administers it.
A Bevin spokeswoman said Monday the administration will challenge Shepherd’s decision.
“We are confident medical review panels are constitutional and will be appealing the Franklin Circuit Court’s ruling immediately,” Amanda Stamper said.
But Senate Minority Leader Ray Jones, a Pikeville Democrat who had argued strongly against the law, said he expects Shepherd’s ruling will stand.
“It is a clear barrier to access to the courts,” Jones said. “It is an infringement on the constitutional right to a trial by jury.”