Former nurse Teresa Nelson is paying close attention to the Oklahoma Legislature's attempt this week to resurrect a tort reform law overturned by the state Supreme Court.
Nelson, 62, of Durant, entered a hospital in Hugo five years ago with a severe case of pneumonia. She was so weak she was unable to move or change positions and soon developed an ulcer on her tailbone.
“I was absolutely too weak to turn, and they wouldn't reposition me, and it ended up growing to five centimeters,” she said.
It grew so big the wound exposed bone. When Nelson brought a negligence lawsuit against the hospital in 2010, the case was derailed by an Oklahoma law requiring plaintiffs to prove the merits of medical malpractice cases with a third-party expert.
Even though her lawyer was able to obtain a certificate of merit after an extension was filed, Nelson's case was thrown out after the hospital that was the defendant raised concerns about the grounds for that extension. Nelson spent close to $2,000 to pay a Dallas-based doctor for the certificate.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court ended up overturning the tort reform law, finding in part the section that kept Nelson from pursuing her claim created a barrier between citizens and the courts.
“I feel like I got railroaded,” Nelson said. “I feel like I was cast aside because I didn't know anything.”
It's not clear whether lawmakers will try to restore the part of the law that affected Nelson when they meet in special session beginning Tuesday, but Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, said he sees the certificate of merit provision as an important component to protecting businesses from frivolous lawsuits. He said he's hopeful it can reworked.
“We could probably try it a different way, and it would pass constitutional scrutiny and muster,” Loveless said.
“That's something that is together, collectively, that will help remove an impediment for business in Oklahoma.”
In throwing out the 2009 tort reform legislation last June, the Oklahoma Supreme Court also found that its many provisions violated the Oklahoma Constitution's requirement that bills deal only with a single subject.
Gov. Mary Fallin called for a special session so that these provisions could be divided into separate single-subject bills.
She said the legislation is badly needed to protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits, and she didn't want to wait for the Legislature's regular session in February to address the matter. Her decision comes with a cost.
Each day of the special session will cost taxpayers about $30,000, said Alex Weintz, spokesman for the governor's office.
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