New Oklahoma tort reform law draws predictable response
IN John Grisham's latest novel, a small law firm taking on Big Pharma has an office dog named “AC.” That stands for Ambulance Chaser. When it comes to Oklahoma's new tort reform laws, this is a dog that will hunt for ways to restore the status quo.
Trial lawyers have been given too much leash for too long. Effective Tuesday, the state entered the modern age of tort reform with legislation its supporters hope will better position Oklahoma to recruit physicians and encourage business relocation. Time will tell if either goal is realized.
More predictable is the trial bar's response to the legislation, with growling threats to challenge the constitutionality of tort reform bills. Such challenges are what led Texas to enact tort reform through constitutional amendments rather than statutes. That's what may need to happen here if the trial bar releases the hounds.
We expect such amendments would pass in Oklahoma, based on what happened in Texas, what happened here in 2001 (voters approved a right-to-work law, kept in the kennel for years by the unions) and a continued negative perception of plaintiffs' attorneys relative to physicians.
Tort reform has long been a goal for doctors, business groups and Republican politicians. These forces coalesced in 2011 under the leadership of Gov. Mary Fallin, House Speaker Kris Steele and Senate President Brian Bingman.
Now comes the reckoning for House Bill 2128, which caps awards for non-economic damages at $350,000. The limit has more bark than bite perhaps because exceptions are granted for circumstances such as negligence. It's one of many compromises tort reformers have accepted to get legislation passed after years of dogged determination.
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