The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

March 18, 2013

Blessed be the caretakers; woe unto those who frivolously sue them

“Woe unto you, lawyers,” Jesus Christ himself once said.

Fast forward 20 centuries and Christ could have had the personal-injury, ambulance-chasing kind of lawyer in mind.

You’ve seen these law-benders’ brand of advertising: targeting doctors doing their best to alleviate patients’ pain through joint replacements or soliciting victims of diseases you’ve never heard of.

It matters not whether the physicians give it their God’s-honest best after conferring with their patients regarding the risks of a procedure.

 They still tote a bulls-eye in Kentucky’s target-rich, litigious environment – compliments of the ambulance chasers.

Plaintiffs are reassured they won’t pay if they lose. Of course if they win, they usually fork over up to a third of their awards to these legal leeches.

So it’s no surprise that “the lawyers” and their enablers during the current Kentucky General Assembly session are the ones railing against common-sense proposals to bring some sanity to reckless lawsuits designed to take out the caretakers of the elderly.

But some reasonable legislators, including Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, don’t like the fact that Kentucky’s nursing homes are sued more often than those in any other state, according to Aon, a top risk-assessment firm.  

Denton’s Senate Bill 9 would establish a Medical Review Panel made up of three physicians and a nonvoting attorney, who would examine the evidence of malpractice claims and determine whether a complaint against a nursing home is warranted.

While the panel’s expert opinion is limited only to determining whether the nursing home in question breached medical-care standards and is non-binding in court, its decision would be admissible and carry considerable weight with juries.

At least 16 states – including neighboring Indiana and Virginia – require medical liability or malpractice cases be heard by screening panels before being placed on court dockets.

However, Kentucky’s ambulance chasers and their politician-enablers in Frankfort are fighting vigorously against this idea because it attacks a source of easy money for the lawyers.

Sheila Hiestand, an attorney with Hughes & Coleman, told Bowling Green’s WBKO-TV: “What’s happening is the bill itself is putting profits over people. It’s allowing the nursing home industry – the national industry – to make more money.”

I’m certain Hiestand does not appreciate all lawyers being labeled as money-grubbing parasites. Yet she issues a blanket charge accusing nursing homes of caring more about money than their patients.  

With no caps on pain-and-suffering damages and no filter to weed out frivolous claims, nursing homes across the Bluegrass State often just settle rather than risk going bankrupt from big paydays won by plaintiffs’ over-the-top claims – not to mention the bad PR for an industry that isn’t exactly at the top of the list of most-loved institutions.

Those who truly care about the abused and downtrodden should welcome a medical review panel. Having a second opinion offered by physicians will add credibility to legitimate claims and make it more likely that the victimized and their loved ones get the victory in court they deserve.

Taxpayers also will benefit, considering Medicaid funds cover the care of more than 65 percent of Kentucky’s nursing home residents.  

I’m privileged to know great lawyers who fight for Kentuckians who have had their liberties threatened or who quietly help individuals every day who can’t pay get a fair shot.

But that’s not what Pikeville lawyer and Democratic Sen. Ray Jones did during the recent debate about the issue on the Senate floor. Holding up photos he claimed were of abused nursing home patients, Jones launched into a rant in which he suggested all nursing homes abuse their patients.

But not all – or even most – do, just like many lawyers don’t chase ambulances or prey upon those with exotic diseases.

Woe unto you, Mr. Jones.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.freedomkentucky.org/bluegrassbeacon.

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