Monday, July 3, 2017

Attorneys file 111 medical-negligence cases in week before new law requires such suits to be reviewed by health professionals

In a proverbial rush to the courthouse, Kentucky lawyers filed 111 lawsuits alleging medical negligence in the week before a new state law took effect, requiring such suits to be reviewed by a panel of health professionals before they can proceed.

Andrew Wolfson of The Courier-Journal in Louisville reports that 68 of the suits allege "that doctors, hospitals, nursing home and other medical professionals caused the wrongful death of patients." Fifty of the 111 cases are in Jefferson County. "Forty-three of the suits were filed by the Lexington office of Wilkes McHugh, a national personal injury firm. Ricard Circeo, who runs the Lexington office, did not respond to requests for comment."

"Under the new law . . . the individual alleging harm must file a complaint with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which triggers the process of setting up an outside panel to review the claim," The C-J's Deborah Yetter explains. "The panel consists of three licensed health professionals with a lawyer serving as chairman. Members must render an opinion on whether a breach of care occurred and whether such a breach was a 'substantial factor' in causing harm to the patient."

The panel has no authority but its opinion can be offered as evidence in the case. The process "can take more than a year," Yetter writes, but if the panel "takes more than nine months to issue a finding, the individual may go ahead and file a lawsuit. The parties also may skip the medical review panel process and go directly to court if both sides agree to do so."

The law was pushed by Republican state Sen. Ralph Alvarado of Winchester, a physician who has patients in nursing homes. He said it will discourage frivolous lawsuits, but plaintiffs' lawyers told Yetter that it will delay or deny access to the courts.

The law is "similar to ones in more than a dozen states," Yetter reports, and "had been sought for years in Kentucky by physician groups, nursing homes and others in the health business." It failed until the state House turned Republican in the November 2015 election.

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