The Kentucky Supreme Court struck down a law last week that required medical practice lawsuits to first pass muster before a medical review panel.

The unanimous decision now paves the way for patients and their families to file suit against nursing homes or other providers, without first having to go before a panel of three medical providers and an attorney. The existing law had created a backlog of hundreds of cases awaiting review by such panels before proceeding to court, while relative few cases have been decided, the Lexington Herald Leader reported Friday.

Gov. Matt Bevin  ( R) called the court’s decision “highly disappointing” last week.

“With this ruling, the seven members of the state Supreme Court have made it nearly impossible to initiate meaningful tort reform,” Bevin said Thursday. “As a result, Kentuckians will suffer much more than residents of other states from continued increases in healthcare costs and doctor shortages.”

Such requirements are popular in Republican led states pursuing tort reform, with 16 having similar review panels, Bloomberg notes. Others, such as Ohio, have a requirement that a doctor must provide an affidavit on the validity of a malpractice claim, which Bluegrass State officials said they may pursue as an alternative. 

In their 7-0 decision, justices ruled that the extra step had delayed Kentuckians’ access to the courts, violating the state constitution and principles of open court access. Meanwhile, other jurisdictions, including Maine, Indiana and Montana, have upheld such panels, applying a “reasonableness” standard to delays in malpractice lawsuits, Bloomberg noted.

In a statement, the chairman of the Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities called the court’s decision “deeply disappointing.”

“Skilled nursing facilities are already leaving the Kentucky market and preserving the broken tort system will only exacerbate that trend,” Terry Skaggs said. “We are concerned about who will care for Kentucky elders in the future — this decision makes it harder for our members to do so at costs families can afford.”