Tuesday, April 5, 2011
A bill that would cap the pain and suffering damages that could be awarded in civil lawsuits is headed to Gov. Mary Fallin.
After more than two hours of debate, the Senate on Monday approved House Bill 2128 by House Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, and Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore. Amendments to the measure were not heard.
Lawyers, injured people and doctors filled the gallery to watch the debate. Doctors wore white lab coats, while some critics of the measure donned hospital gowns to represent injured victims.
The measure passed by a vote of 30-14.
Fallin campaigned on supporting lawsuit reform.
The measure does not cap what are called economic damages paid to cover lost wages, future earnings and medical bills. Noneconomic damages, or pain and suffering, would be capped at $350,000 with some exceptions for reckless disregard for the rights of others, gross negligence, fraud, and intentional or malicious conduct.
“Placing a cap on noneconomic damages is a key part of the reform agenda promoted by members of the Legislature and the governor,” Steele said. “Lawsuit reform is needed to help grow the state’s economy and increase its competitiveness with other states.”
The measure also is needed to protect access to quality health care, he said.
Critics say the threshold for removing the cap is so stringent it will rarely apply.
Also, insurance companies that pay damages will be exempt because policies would preclude coverage for items that would lift the cap.
The cap would not apply to wrongful death cases.
Tulsa attorney Ted Sherwood said the measure is unconstitutional because it violates the separation-of-powers clauses in the U.S. and Oklahoma Constitutions.
Sherwood predicted a legal challenge that will cost state taxpayers to defend.
Tulsa attorney Guy A. Fortney said it also violates the constitutionally protected right to a jury trial.
The measure would apply to civil actions filed on or after Nov. 1.
By Barbara Hoberock - Tulsa World