Okla. Republican Lawmakers Renew Drive for Lawsuit Reform

April 7, 2006

Days after the defeat of their lawsuit reform bill, Oklahoma House and Senate Republican legislative leaders, joined by business and health care leaders, announced a renewed drive for lawsuit reform in Oklahoma in 2006.

“There’s no doubt we face an uphill battle in achieving meaningful lawsuit reform this year,” said Speaker Todd Hiett (R-Kellyville). “Senate Democrats have served their trial lawyer bosses well. Meanwhile, our current legal system is broken in Oklahoma — and it’s costing us good jobs and good doctors. If we don’t achieve lawsuit reform this year, it’s going to have a devastating impact on health care access and costs in our state, especially in rural areas.”

“We are extremely disappointed that Senate Democrats continue to put their trial lawyer allies ahead of the jobs and the health care of the people of Oklahoma,” said Senator Glenn Coffee (R-Oklahoma City), Republican Leader in the Senate. “Senate Democrats may have won the battle in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, but this is not the end of the fight. Our efforts to pass meaningful, comprehensive lawsuit reform in 2006 will continue.”

Earlier this week, Senate Democrat leaders once again tried to kill efforts to achieve meaningful lawsuit reform – voting along party lines to defeat House Bill 3120 in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Hiett said the House will move soon to amend other measures to include lawsuit reform — giving the Senate another chance to consider the legislation. The Speaker also called on the governor to step forward with leadership on the issue.

“The governor has repeatedly said he’s for bold reforms,” said Hiett. “But we need more than words. We need the governor to prove he can lead on this issue.”

According to House and Senate Republicans, their legislation would feature:

Quick and Fair Resolution of Lawsuits:

The Common Sense in the Courtroom Act would make it easier for plaintiffs or defendants with strong cases to win on summary judgment, rather than going through the painful, expensive and difficult process of a trial.

No more Hunting for “Deep Pockets” in Lawsuits:

Right now, lawyers fishing for jackpot verdicts use “joint and several liability,” the so- called “deep pockets” rule, that holds each defendant in a legal action responsible for the entire amount of damages a plaintiff seeks regardless of the degree of responsibility. The Common Sense in the Courtroom Act would create a proportionate liability rule under which defendants will only be responsible for their relative share of damages.

Cleaning up Class Action:

A legitimate part of Oklahoma’s legal system, class action suits in recent years have turned into a shakedown racket for some trial lawyers. In a notorious case against Jiffy Lube in Oklahoma, attorneys collected millions in fees while the clients got coupons for car service. The Common Sense in the Courtroom Act would ensure that if clients get coupons, the lawyers get coupons. The bill also would limit “contingency” fees for attorneys.

Reducing Health Care and Consumer Costs for Oklahomans:

The Common Sense in the Courtroom Act would put sensible limits on non-economic damages like pain and suffering. Large non-economic damage awards drive up the cost of health care and the cost of consumer goods and services.

Common Sense Protection for Business Owners:

The Common Sense in the Courtroom Act protects businesses from frivolous lawsuits about products that have been approved by the federal government as safe. The bill also limits lawsuits against makers of choice-based products – such as fast food – that everyone knows can have potentially harmful consequences if misused.

Source: Oklahoma House of Representatives

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