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Kentucky Lawmakers Mull More Changes To Medical Liability Laws

Gage Skidmore

During the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers will focus on making changes to the state’s pension systems and passing a two-year state budget.

But legislators are also eyeing making more changes to laws governing how Kentuckians can sue doctors for malpractice — a year after passing a law that requires claims to be reviewed by a panel of doctors before they can head to court.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Republican from Winchester, said he will propose a constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to set caps on how much people can sue doctors for.

“I think the wording right now in the constitution is that the General Assembly ‘shall not’ have that ability,” Alvarado said during a Kentucky Chamber of Commerce event.

“We’re going to remove the word not and say that it ‘shall’ have the ability to set that.”

Section 54 of the Kentucky Constitution prohibits caps on damages.

Alvarado, a physician, said he was also interested in sponsoring a bill that would add legal protections for doctors if they apologize to patients or family members after a medical altercation — the apology couldn’t be used against the doctor in court.

Last year, Alvarado shepherded the medical review panel legislation through the General Assembly. The new law requires malpractice and negligence lawsuits to be reviewed by a committee of doctors before they head to court.

Supporters say the policy weeds out frivolous lawsuits made against doctors, hospitals and other health care providers, making the state more attractive to medical practitioners.

A trial court ruled that the new policy was unconstitutional because it limited plaintiffs’ access to the court system, but the Kentucky Court of Appeals has granted a stay of that decision, allowing 89 malpractice cases to proceed through the Medical Review Panel process.

Rep. Joe Fischer, a Republican from Ft. Thomas and chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said that he was also in favor of amending liability language in the constitution.

“The Supreme Court has taken control of what I would call the legal liability reform issue,” Fischer said. “They have tied our hands in the legislature from doing anything except tinker around the edges of legal liability reform.”

Constitutional amendments have to be approved by two-thirds of each legislative chamber and then receive a majority of votes during a statewide referendum held during a general election.

The legislative session begins Tuesday, Jan 2.

Ryland is the state capitol reporter for the Kentucky Public Radio Network, a group of public radio stations including WKU Public Radio. A native of Lexington, Ryland has covered politics and state government for NPR member stations KWBU in Waco and KUT in Austin.
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