Doctors in the Commonwealth – especially the bad ones – may sleep even easier soon, especially if one of their own has his way.
Once again, the “blue” Kentucky Senate is trying to make things even more difficult than they already are for victims of medical malpractice. Up until now we’ve been able to count on our “red-leaning” House of Representatives to curb such blatantly conservative moves. But the House has more of a blue hue to it after the latest state elections.
So now Kentucky Senate Bill 4 (SB-4) – introduced and championed by State Senator Ralph Alvarado M.D. of Winchester – has been passed by the full Senate after clearing the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee. If approved by the House – which could happen in the current session – the law will place caps on a plaintiff’s attorney’s fees in malpractice cases.
The new law will limit the amount of fees malpractice plaintiff’s attorneys can collect and link them directly to the amount of damages their plaintiff-clients may be awarded if they win their cases against defendant-doctors (and their insurance companies). Under those limits, plaintiff lawyers would receive $60,000 in fees (30 percent) if their clients win $200,000 in damages. But they would be limited to $140,000 (or 14 percent) in fees if damages reach $1 million, according to bill sponsor, Alvarado.
This potential obstacle follows close on the heels of the passing of another law during the Legislature’s previous session. It is equally damaging to the interests of injured medical malpractice plaintiffs. That statute now requires injured Kentucky medical malpractice plaintiffs to first submit their claims for “approval” to a medical review panel of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services before their cases against dangerous healthcare providers can proceed into state civil courts. That law is being challenged in the courts, and it’s a pretty safe bet that someone will challenge this latest anti-plaintiff statute if it becomes law.
Winchester’s Doctor/Senator Alvarado says the changes are for the good of Kentucky’s health care system and will bring it closer in line with malpractice laws in many other states. “We’re just trying to get right with the times,” he says.
But Democratic Senator Reginald Thomas of Lexington strenuously differs and says SB-4’s changes could legally hobble injured malpractice victims pursuing damages against mistake-prone or negligent health care providers, especially in light of the previous year’s “medical panel approval law.”
“[SB-4] is designed for one purpose only,” Thomas continues, “to protect health care providers and hospitals, and get attorneys out of that business.”
Let’s take a quick look at the sponsor of SB-4, Senator Alvarado. The California native opened a private practice in Winchester in 1998. But before long, owing to shrinking reimbursements and increasing regulations, he closed his practice and joined corporate health care provider KentuckyOne Medical Group, where his stature rose almost immediately at the group’s crown jewels — St. Joseph’s and St. Joseph’s East Hospitals in Lexington. And yet, with all due respect to the Senator, his success as a “re-branded” private physician is not the point. But his views of health care in our state and his efforts to curb realistic redress of reasonable health care grievances are, to put it mildly, overly restrictive.
The irony of it all is any assumption that these two laws can effectively protect victims of medical malpractice in Kentucky, which – according to a recent expose’ in US News and World Report –ranks 45th in overall quality of health care offered in the U.S. But things are just fine for private health care providers here in the Commonwealth, and they’re about to get even better thanks to Doctor/Senator Ralph Alvarado . . . aren’t they?
And still, there’s a certain gallows humor to this situation. It makes one wonder what would happen if the famous bank robber Willie Sutton had ever become a state legislator? He’d probably sponsor a law prohibiting banks from employing armed security guards.
Nevertheless, if you have been injured, or a family member has suffered a wrongful death, and you suspect medical malpractice by any Kentucky health care provider, we’re still here for you! Please contact the Billy Johnson Injury Law Firm any time by calling us at 606-433-0682 or fill out our online contact form to arrange a free case evaluation.