For the second time this year, the Oklahoma House passed legislation recently that would change Oklahoma’s civil justice system to help stop frivolous lawsuits and lower medical malpractice insurance rates.
House members voted 54-30 for the bill, which is similar to one passed by the House last month that was later killed by Democrats in a Senate committee. The measure is a top priority of Republican House Speaker Todd Hiett of Kellyville.
The measure was criticized by House Democrats who attempted to amend it to remove a $300,000 cap on non-economic damages, also known as pain and suffering, curb lawyer advertising and require that lawsuits go to trial within six months. The amendments were tabled by the GOP-controlled House.
“What’s going on here folks is politics,” said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, an attorney and author of two of the amendments. Morrissette said Republicans are playing political games with the civil justice bill “because it’s an election year.”
Rep. Ryan Kiesel, D-Seminole, said capping pain and suffering would hurt stay-at-home parents and homemakers who would not be able to prove actual damages, such as lost income, if seriously injured by someone else.
“Non-economic damage caps hurt the folks that don’t have actual damages,” said Kiesel, a law school student.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Fred Morgan, R-Oklahoma City, rejected charges that the measure would make it harder for Oklahomans to recover for injuries caused by others.
“I don’t believe this bill will close access to the courts for people,” said Morgan, an attorney and candidate for the 5th Congressional District seat.
Among other things, the bill changes “joint and several liability” so defendants are liable only for their share of harm. Under the measure, if someone is found to be 10 percent liable, they will pay 10 percent of the plaintiff’s award.
The bill includes liability protection for volunteers working for charities and teachers to prevent them from being sued for disciplining a student.
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