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.