State senators sent the governor legislation Thursday to make major changes in the way Oklahoma lawsuits are treated in court cases ranging from personal injury to medical malpractice. Senate Bill 507, pushed by Republicans, passed 25-23 after nearly three hours of questions and debate over the tort reform issue, which also is called lawsuit reform. The bill would cap noneconomic damages, which generally are for pain and suffering, at $300,000. It states a jury could award punitive damages only if it finds by clear and convincing evidence of intentional or gross negligence. In the Senate, evenly divided between the parties, one Democrat — Susan Paddack of Ada — joined GOP senators in voting for the bill. Paddack, a doctor's wife, authored a separate tort reform bill earlier and passed it through the Senate. Her bill grew from the state Supreme Court striking down parts of Oklahoma's current tort reform law. Her proposal was included in SB 507 and would require people wanting to use an expert in a lawsuit to get an affidavit that they have consulted with an expert and received a written opinion within 60 days that the lawsuit has merit. Otherwise, it would be dismissed. Mike Seney, senior vice president of The State Chamber, praised Paddack and Rep. Lucky Lamons, D-Tulsa, the only Democrats who voted with their Republican colleagues on the bill. Lamons voted for the 119-page bill when it passed the House on Tuesday. "Let's finally get this lawsuit reform issue behind us,” said Sen. James Williamson, the Tulsa Republican who presented the bill to the full Senate. Opponents said the bill was tilted heavily in favor of people who are sued. Sens. Debbe Leftwich and Charlie Laster, both Democrats, said the measure would allow nursing homes and hospitals to hide information on what hurt or killed a patient if that information is brought up in a quality assurance meeting. Williamson said that section is to let someone trying to fix problems discuss it with staff without having it thrown back in their face in a lawsuit. Laster said the bill also could affect class action lawsuits involving mineral royalty owners. "I challenge you to find in these 46 sections where the wronged person is helped,” said Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne.
Co-Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City, said the bill would help businesses that are dealing with lawsuit costs and would prevent higher malpractice insurance rates paid by physicians.
Democrats cool to billAfter it passed, Gov. Brad Henry issued this statement: "The tort reform legislation is very lengthy and very complex, and I have not had an opportunity to review it in detail yet. I will spend the days to come studying the measure to determine if it is in the best interest of all Oklahomans.” Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, said the legislation will restrict access to justice for Oklahomans. Laster criticized a provision that mandates if a jury awards a judgment, the plaintiff's insurance would be deducted from his award. He said an insurer for a defendant might not have to pay any of the award under this provision. Williamson said a bill from the House will correct that, and he is committed to seeing it done. "This is a bill for every Mom and Pop business out there,” Williamson said.
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Sen. Susan Paddack
Tort reform bill passes ...•Pain and suffering: Plan would cap damages at $300,000 •Punitive damages: Allowed only with gross negligence •Proof: Plaintiffs using expert must show suit has merit
How they votedRepublicans in the Senate voted in favor of Senate Bill 507. Democrats voted against it except Susan Paddack of Ada. Here's the breakdown: •Yes: Cliff Aldridge, R-Midwest City; Patrick Anderson, R-Enid; Don Barrington, R-Lawton; Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa; Cliff Branan, R-Oklahoma City; Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso; Bill Brown, R-Broken Arrow; Harry Coates, R-Seminole; Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City; Brian Crain, R-Tulsa; John Ford, R-Bartlesville; Mike Johnson, R-Kingfisher; Clark Jolley, R-Edmond; Ron Justice, R-Chickasha; Todd Lamb, R-Edmond; Owen Laughlin, R-Woodward; Mike Mazzei, R-Tulsa; David Myers, R-Ponca City; Jonathan Nichols, R-Norman; Susan Paddack, D-Ada; Jim Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City; Mike Schultz, R-Altus; and Anthony Sykes, R-Moore; Kathleen Wilcoxson, R-Oklahoma City; and James Williamson, R-Tulsa. •No: Tom Adelson, D-Tulsa; Roger Ballenger, D-Okmulgee; Randy Bass, D-Lawton; Sean Burrage, D-Claremore; Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau; Johnnie Crutchfield, D-Ardmore; Mary Easley, D-Tulsa; Judy Eason-McIntyre, D-Tulsa; Earl Garrison, D-Muskogee; Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant; Tom Ivester, D-Sayre; Connie Johnson, D-Oklahoma City; Charlie Laster, D-Shawnee; Debbe Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City; Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne; Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater; Jeff Rabon, D-Hugo; Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City; Nancy Riley, D-Tulsa; John Sparks, D-Norman; Joe Sweeden, D-Pawhuska; Jim Wilson, D-Tahlequah; and Charles Wyrick, D-Fairland.