By Betsy Johnson
Personal injury lawyers have been spending big on attack ads and filing lawsuits against Kentucky’s nursing homes, hospitals and caregivers. The plaintiff’s bar is pursuing lawsuits because time is running out on their taxpayer and consumer funded pot of gold.
The General Assembly passed two important bills this year dealing with legal liability. Now, it’s almost time for them to take effect. Motivated by profit, some bad actor personal injury lawyers know their ability to take advantage of Kentucky’s broken medical malpractice system is about to be severely hampered.
The reforms passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Matt Bevin will help root out meritless lawsuits and stop personal injury lawyers from running unsubstantiated attack ads. This will allow our industry to focus on what matters—patient and resident care—not lawsuits.
Senate Bill 4 established an independent medical review panel system which allows a board of experts to deliver an opinion on whether the standard of care was breached in medical malpractice cases. In some instances, the opinion rendered by the panel can be admitted into the courtroom, but neither the panel nor its opinion will delay or prevent a case from going to trial.
Medical review panels already exist in 17 states, and have long been a priority for Kentucky’s healthcare community.
Another reform, Senate Bill 150, will reduce the many false and defamatory personal injury lawyer ads against Kentucky’s nursing homes by requiring certain commonsense standards to be met. In short, their ads must be based on reality, not fabrication.
Special interest lobbyists for the trial bar spent significant amounts of money and fought hard against both bills. Fortunately, the General Assembly chose to move forward with policies proven effective in other states. More importantly, they sided with those who take care of our loved ones, not greedy out-of-state law firms.
And let’s be clear: these firms are predatory. I have heard countless stories of lawyers harassing long term care providers by having law enforcement serve legal notices at homes after business hours and on the weekends.
There are many types of short and long term care facilities across Kentucky. More than 30,000 Kentuckians have dedicated their careers to helping the 23,000-plus residents who need specialized care.
While the reforms passed earlier this year will surely help, the short term will certainly be painful for Kentucky nursing homes. Personal injury lawyers refuse to go quietly into the night. Since the legislative session ended in April, attack ads and lawsuits have increased.
I encourage our elected leaders in Frankfort to talk with the nursing home administrators and caregivers in their districts. Whether dismissed, settled or decided by verdict in the courtroom, these lawsuits are expensive and damaging.
We must continue our efforts to improve Kentucky’s liability climate. In 2018, the General Assembly should pass a constitutional amendment to establish reasonable caps on certain damages. Such an effort will draw much criticism and hand-wringing from the trial bar, but will provide much needed protections for caregivers in the Commonwealth.
-Betsy Johnson is with the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities.