Witt: SB 20 signals lack of faith in judiciary system

Published 10:35 am Wednesday, February 28, 2018

It appears some members of Kentucky’s Republican party have little faith in the judiciary system here.

Only a vote in the Senate will determine whether Democrats concur, but Senate Bill 20 is sponsored by seven members of the body, all Republicans.

What is SB 20?

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It is “An act proposing an amendment to Section 54 of the Constitution of Kentucky” and proposes to give the General Assembly (i.e. the legislature) the power to “Limit the amount to be recovered for injuries to person or property and provide for a uniform statute of limitations or statutes of repose, or both, for any civil action for injuries resulting in death or for injuries to person or property.”

In other words more understandable to the average individual, to shift the power of remuneration in lawsuits from juries to members of the legislature.

This is nothing more than the usurpation of the power of the courts and a chipping away at the separation of powers which is a foundation of government, both federal and state.

In his Legislative Update for Feb. 9th, Sen. Ralph Alvarado includes the following: Senator Alvarado describes a factor of Senate Bill 20 as “protect injured clients from predatory attorneys who often charge 40 to 50 percent contingency fees. Most of us know that attorneys make all the money and clients, who have been injured or aggrieved get almost none.”

Really? Most of us?

Regrettably, this statement is not followed by any examples of when this has happened. Perhaps it has, but the lack of supporting evidence does nothing to strengthen the argument that clients are being ripped off by predatory attorneys or how often.

Of course, there are predatory attorneys, those who give a bad name to their profession. There are also many, many more attorneys who work faithfully on behalf of their clients to achieve beneficial results. And many of the cases where people suffer injury at the hands of professional practitioners drag on for years and years during which insurance companies and attorneys for the defense use every possible legal avenue to wear down the opposition and seek a more favorable outcome for themselves.

Medical malpractice, especially, is a field of litigation which can become incredibly complicated. While most physicians work diligently for their patients, there are, just as in any profession, a few scofflaws who deserve to be driven out of the profession; those who harm their patients through either neglect or malfeasance.

It is being proposed that SB 20 be submitted to the voters. If that happens, hopefully the Kentucky electorate will be intelligent enough to reject it. If one cannot maintain faith in the fidelity of the court system to make decisions of this sort, it might signal an unfortunate turn by which more and more power is relegated to the legislature. Power which has, for the time this country has existed, resided in judges and juries, elected and selected as peers.

One must reasonably ask how the legislature is going to go about determining how much an individual shall be compensated for the negligent acts of others. Most likely the legislative solution would be to simply place a cap on awards, a solution that will obviously not fit every situation.

Alvarado, a co-sponsor of SB 20, is also a physician, and it is understandable he is interested in trying to provide some sort of protection from outlandish and frivolous lawsuits against competent and caring doctors who occasionally are the target of simple greed.

SB 20 is not the way to achieve this and is likely to be found unconstitutional by the courts.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.