Consumer Group Urges Veto of Okla. Tort Reform Bill

April 25, 2007

A consumer group urged Gov. Brad Henry to veto a massive civil justice measure, arguing that the 109-page bill is replete with anti-consumer provisions and that insurance companies it is designed to protect are making record profits.

J. Robert Hunter, an actuary and director of insurance for Consumer Federation of America, said the measure’s cap on non-economic damages, also known as pain and suffering, its elimination of prejudgment interest for three years after a lawsuit is filed and other provisions will hurt Oklahomans.

“This one has every conceivable bad thing in it,” Hunter said. “All these things will hurt people.”

Hunter sent Henry a letter urging him to veto the bill and require Commissioner of Insurance Kim Holland to review property and casualty insurance rates in the state to determine if their profits are excessive and lower rates if needed.

“A bill taking away the rights of victims of injury to further enrich insurers is not justified,” his letter states.

Meanwhile, The State Chamber, a business and industry group, announced plans to send Henry a letter urging him to sign the bill. Approved by the House and Senate last week, Henry has until April 28 to sign or veto it.

The Chamber circulated an e-mail recruiting others to join in the letter. “With your leadership in signing this reform bill, Oklahoma will be recognized nationwide as a state that wants to return common sense to our courts and personal responsibility to our society,” a proposed copy of the letter states.

Supporters have said the measure will protect doctors from frivolous lawsuits that drive up the cost of malpractice insurance and medical care. It is supported by the Oklahoma State Medical Association.

Hunter said a study he performed found that in 2004 and 2005, the profit of insurance companies in the state exceeded national averages by $235 million.

In medical malpractice, the national 2004 and 2005 loss payments as a percentage of premiums paid by doctors were 63.3 percent and 52.4 percent. In Oklahoma, the losses paid out to victims for each dollar paid in by doctors were only 33.2 cents in 2004 and 13.8 cents in 2005, Hunter said.

His letter to Henry described the bill as “a draconian measure” that would assure insurers that payouts to injured victims of negligence would be minimal.

Hunter said insurance companies have worked to limit their payouts by promoting changes in civil justice guidelines that limit payouts but not profits.

“The big way they’ve cut their risk is laying off loss onto people,” Hunter said. “They’ve found ways to lay their risk on the public.”

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