A bill that would affect how lawsuits are treated in court cases ranging from personal injury to medical malpractice passed a House committee Wednesday evening after it was slipped into another measure. The lawsuit reform bill is generally the same as the measure vetoed last year by Gov. Brad Henry, Rep. Daniel Sullivan, R-Tulsa, told members of the House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. The 133-page measure was placed into Senate Bill 156, a four-page bill that would have created the Small Hospitals Self-Help Act. The last-minute tactic came just before today's deadline for House committees to hear Senate bills. "This is about politics and politics only,” said Rep. Richard Morrisette, D-Oklahoma City. "The governor vetoed this bill last year and I suspect he'll do the same thing. This is an election year. This is a set-up bill.” Sullivan said the bill would "make a level and clear playing field available for everyone who does business in the state of Oklahoma.”Comments
Similar measure was vetoed beforeHenry vetoed last year's lawsuit reform measure in late April. Discussions during the waning days of last year's legislative session produced no compromise. "We will need to review the latest bill to see what is in it,” the governor's spokesman, Paul Sund, said Wednesday night. "It will be problematic if it is essentially the same bill with the same objectionable language in it.” Among other things, the bill would cap noneconomic damages, which generally are for pain and suffering, at $300,000. It would limit a jury to award punitive damages only if it found intentional or gross negligence by clear and convincing evidence. Henry in vetoing last year's lawsuit reform measure said he concluded several provisions of the bill were unconstitutional, and it unduly restricted Oklahomans' ability to seek justice. He also thought it did not do enough to curb frivolous lawsuits. Republican legislative leaders last year criticized the Democratic governor's action. Sen. James Williamson, R-Tulsa, two weeks ago challenged Henry to make a counter-offer to the lawsuit reform measure. Rep. Scott Inman, D-Oklahoma City, a member of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, opposed this year's bill. "This is the same thing we dealt with last year,” said Inman,. "We're a state that's tough on crime but soft on negligence.”
About the billAmong other things, the bill would cap noneconomic damages, which generally are for pain and suffering, at $300,000. It would limit a jury to award punitive damages only if it found intentional or gross negligence by clear and convincing evidence. A section of the measure would offer an exemption "so that companies that do each other wrong have a free market to sue each other, but if you're an injured child you have to have caps on your damages,” Rep. Richard Morrissette said. What's ahead? The lawsuit reform measure now goes to the House floor.