Danger! Tort reform legislation passed in the spring goes into effect Nov. 1. File your lawsuits now! This is the message being sent by an Oklahoma City law firm whose practice is "limited to catastrophic injuries.” Merritt & Associates is warning clients to get those lawsuits filed in the next two months.
The legislation, among other provisions, puts a generous cap on non-economic damages (in some cases) and abolishes the creative legal concept of joint and several liability. When Texas voters passed sweeping tort reform measures in 2003, an Oklahoma state senator used the occasion to troll for clients. He urged Texas trial lawyers to switch suits to Oklahoma venues, using the senator’s law firm as a partner. The solicitation led to adverse national publicity over how Texas had reformed its tort system and Oklahoma had not. Modest reform was passed this year. The day of reckoning arrives Nov. 1. Merritt and Associates wants potential litigants to know that time is of the essence. The senator’s foray into forum shopping has morphed into a law firm’s exercise in time travel. The urgency of the message shows just how painful tort reform can be for the lawyers. But one man’s pain is another’s gain. Tort reform is working in Texas, as especially seen in the number of physicians eager to obtain licensure in that state. We don’t yet know how well it will work here. We do know that entrenched resistance to reform ends in about 60 days. Hallelujah!