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Kentucky’s state Supreme Court on Thursday struck down a law requiring a panel of doctors to review medical malpractice lawsuits and upheld a law banning mandatory union dues for most employees.

The rulings gave Republicans and Democrats each something to celebrate, as the GOP passed both laws in their first year of control over the loud opposition of some Democrats. Republican Gov. Matt Bevin has credited the union dues law, known as right-to-work, with spurring record levels of business investment in Kentucky. But the medical review panel law has been criticized for clogging the state’s court system.

For the past year, whenever someone files a medical malpractice lawsuit in Kentucky it is first reviewed by a panel of doctors before it can go to court. The doctors have nine months to issue a report on whether they think the claim has merit. The report can then be used as evidence at trial.

Republican state Sen. Ralph Alvarado, an emergency room doctor, sponsored the bill with the goal of reducing frivolous lawsuits. Tonya Claycomb sued to overturn the law on behalf of her child, Ezra, who was born with severe brain damage and cerebral palsy she says was caused by medical malpractice. She argued the bill had delayed her access to the courts, citing section 14 of the Kentucky Constitution. It says all courts shall be open and every person will have access “without ... delay.”

Lawyers for Gov. Bevin argued the law is helpful because it gets the two sides talking before a lawsuit is filed, which could lead to an agreement to settle the case outside of court. They also argued section 14 of the Constitution only applies to the courts, not the legislature.

But the court ruled the law is unconstitutional because it delays access to the courts, rejecting the argument that section 14 of the state Constitution only applies to the courts.


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