Oklahoma’s attorney general has urged Gov. Brad Henry to veto a bill changing the rules on the civil lawsuit system, saying the legislation would cripple his ability to take legal action to protect the state and its people from harm.
Attorney General Drew Edmondson said a provision requiring experts to sign affidavits that a lawsuit has merit 60 days before filing a petition would have made tobacco and poultry litigation “impossible.”
“Likewise, it would have made similar efforts to protect Grand Lake, Wister, Broken Bow or any other watersheds virtually impossible,” he said.
Edmondson said the bill was “not reform at all,” as proponents suggest, in the way it treats lawsuits filed by the state.
He was unhappy that the bill did not exempt the state from a provision doing away with current state law on “joint and several lability.” Under that law, plaintiffs may recover total damages from one of several defendants, regardless of the individual defendant’s share of the liability.
“I cannot for the life of me figure out why the state would want to limit its own ability to recover damages when the state has been harmed,” Edmondson said. “When the state is a victim and is pursuing defendants to recoup losses, it should not have to face roadblocks of its own making.”
Edmondson also said provisions on appeal bonds and prejudgment interest would make litigation more lengthy and expensive.
“If prejudgment interest does not begin for 36 months after filing, the incentive for early settlements or early litigation is reduced,” he said. “That is a three year time-out on any penalty for delay.
“Also, limiting the amount of appeal bonds artificially to amounts that may bear no relation to the judgment being appealed adds not only time to the litigation but also uncertainty as to whether, at the end of the appeal road, there will be sufficient moneys to satisfy the judgment.”
Edmondson said that besides his lawsuit against poultry companies accused of polluting Oklahoma waters, the state has been involved in a variety of civil litigation.
“We sued big tobacco and have recovered more than one-half of one billion dollars for the state thus far. We have had recoveries for Oklahoma from major pharmaceutical companies, financial corporations, the music industry, sweepstakes companies and many others.
“These lawsuits have never been frivolous. Our ability to protect Oklahoma and its people in the future will be severely hampered if this bill becomes law. The governor should veto it.”
Senate Co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, a supporter of the bill, said he was concerned that Edmondson’s comments meant he was planning future lawsuits that “may or may not have merit.”
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