State lawmakers would be able to limit the amount of damages awarded when Kentuckians sue people or companies under a constitutional amendment that passed a legislative committee on Wednesday.
Supporters of the measure say it would make Kentucky more attractive to businesses looking to relocate to the state.
Dave Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said businesses are afraid of having to pay out large sums of money if a jury rules against them in a lawsuit.
“Uncertainty and unlimited liability are the hallmark features of Kentucky’s what I would call the ‘Wild West’ of legal liability in this state,” Adkisson said. “And while that might be good for movies, it’s not good for business. The unpredictability keeps businesses away.”
Since the bill would amend the Kentucky Constitution, three-fifths of each legislative chamber would have to approve the bill, as would a majority of voters during a referendum on Nov 6.
The state Constitution currently forbids the legislature from setting any caps or limits on damages.
Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Republican from Winchester and sponsor of the bill, said state lawmakers would have greater freedom to change liability laws without “less chance of court intervention.”
“If adopted, elected representatives could establish common sense thresholds on jury awarded damages or not, and have the freedom to change these limits over time to ensure justice is delivered for all,” Alvarado said.
Sen. Morgan McGarvey, a Democrat from Louisville, said the bill would make a “severe and permanent change” to state law.
“These are for big-verdict lawsuits, for people who have been seriously injured,” McGarvey said. “And because of that, I think it could have catastrophic consequences.”
The measure is part of a larger effort to scale back Kentucky’s legal liability laws.
Last year, the General Assembly passed a law requiring medical malpractice lawsuits to be approved by a panel of doctors before being heard in court.
A trial court ruled that the new policy was unconstitutional because it limited plaintiffs’ access to the court system, but the Kentucky Court of Appeals has granted a stay of that decision, allowing 89 malpractice cases to proceed through the process.
An omnibus bill — sponsored by Alvarado, who’s a doctor — that would make several changes to Kentucky’s liability laws also advanced on Wednesday.
Senate Bill 20 would, among other things, limit the amount of money attorneys can receive from malpractice settlements, charge attorneys for copies of medical records and set up a peer review system whereby doctors can “police themselves.”
“They need the ability to be brutally honest about each other’s skills in an anonymous setting,” Alvarado said. “Right now the process is discoverable and a public criticism of a colleague can bring a lawsuit from that colleague. The process must be confidential in order for proper reviews to be conducted and enhance safety in our hospitals.”
Now that both measures have passed a Senate committee, they are eligible to be voted on by the full Senate.