Senate Bill 4 pays out — to insurance companies

Published 6:51 am Sunday, January 8, 2017

By BILL NOELKER

Guest columnist

Imagine you are having dinner with some friends when you begin carving the delicious roast you have prepared for your guests. You carelessly carve the roast at the table in front of one of your guests. You also use a knife that you know has a handle that slips out of your hand all the time.

As you are carving the roast the handle slips out of your hand and the knife impales your unsuspecting guest. The knife cuts the jugular vein and your guest quickly bleeds out all over the delicious roast. Terrible dinner party, right? A month later, you get sued for negligently causing the death of your guest.

Most reasonable people would agree you should be sued. You just can’t go around carelessly wielding a defective knife because someone is likely to get killed. It is why we tell our children not to run with scissors — it’s simply a bad idea.

Now imagine that your guest doesn’t bleed out but instead goes to the emergency room for stitches. While stitching the wound, the doctor uses sutures that he just dropped on the floor. The dirty sutures cause a massive infection and your guest eventually dies. Still a terrible dinner party!

A month later, you get sued — but the doctor doesn’t. Why? Because Kentucky just passed Senate Bill 4, which requires any case involving negligence by a doctor to be reviewed by — wait for it — other doctors before you can sue. Special protection for doctors? Shouldn’t they be subject to the same legal procedures as you and me? Why do they get special treatment? If you are the guest in this scenario wouldn’t you want your family to be able to sue both the negligent host and the negligent doctor?

The insurance companies say you shouldn’t be able to sue the doctor until other doctors review the case. Why? Because greedy attorneys file frivolous law suits and people like you just want to sue to make a quick buck. That is what they want you to believe, but it is not true.

The truth: Attorneys are bound by Rule 11. This rule provides a mechanism for the insurance companies and the doctors they represent to ask the judge to sanction an attorney if a meritless case is filed.

This rule is rarely invoked by insurance companies or the doctors they represent because most of the medical malpractice law suits are not frivolous. Attorneys know that they can quickly lose their licenses to practice if they violate this rule — and many have.

Additionally, in most medical negligence cases, the medical records have already been reviewed by an expert doctor hired by the injured party, who files a report giving his opinion as to whether the doctor was negligent before a case is ever filed.

So why do we need an additional layer of government intervention in our lives in these cases? For those of you who voted Republican, don’t you want less regulation and more freedom? If so, you are not getting it with this bill.

The real reason the insurance companies want this medical review panel is to eliminate your right to sue a doctor when that doctor negligently causes you injury. It creates a panel of doctors and others who will be controlled by the people in power — insurance companies — who will be incentivized to prevent you from filing a lawsuit.

Insurance companies make a lot more money if they don’t have to pay you for your injuries. They have convinced doctors that their malpractice insurance premiums will go down, but that is a lie as well. They won’t. Instead, they will keep charging doctors the same premiums and simply pocket all that cash. What a scam!

As a former combat veteran, I have fought to protect your rights as a human being. I became an attorney for the same reason. Those rights include the right to recover monetary damages for injuries sustained by the negligence of another. That right is being taken from you today.

I have never met a doctor that did not want to provide the best service to her patients. Doctors are human beings and they do make mistakes just like the rest of us. I have the highest regard for what doctors do and the amount of training they receive. This is not about doctors. Senate Bill 4 is about insurance companies and profit. That’s it.

The Republicans are about to pass a bill creating another government bureaucracy that will provide special protections for big insurance companies, while destroying the rights of god-fearing, hardworking, blue-collar Kentuckians. Is this what you voted for?

Bill Noelker is a Danville attorney.