The Oklahoma Senate passed a lawsuit reform measure that would put a hard cap on non-economic damages — or pain and suffering awards — in lawsuits at $250,000. Supporters said the bill will help end Oklahoma’s reputation as a lawsuit destination state while preserving the right to a fair trial. Senate Bill 863 received bi-partisan support with a vote of 29-18.
Leaders in the Republican-controlled House and Senate have said such changes are needed to reduce the insurance costs that doctors and businesses pay.
“This is critical to our efforts to boost Oklahoma’s economic recovery through laws that encourage businesses to locate and stay in our state, creating more jobs,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa. “Lawsuit reform is about providing the jury with better information and allowing them to make more informed decisions. This bill will accomplish that.”
Sen. Anthony Sykes, R-Moore, principal author of SB 863, said the bill “will preserve the right to a fair trial by strengthening the ability of jurors to evaluate each case while also reducing the likelihood of a frivolous lawsuit.”
Not all lawmakers are happy with the bill, which now moves to the House for approval. The Associated Press reported that the measure has come under fire from both Democrats and Republicans who say they fear injured Oklahomans won’t be properly compensated for damages.
Claremore Democrat Sen. Sean Burrage asked whether it was worth $250,000 to be horribly disfigured or lose the ability to walk.
Even some Republicans say the proposed changes go too far, according to the AP. When Sen. Sykes, who wrote the bill, attempted a procedural move to cut off any amendments, several Republicans objected, forcing leadership to “twist some arms” to get Republicans to switch their votes, said Sen. Steve Russell.
According to information released by the Senate, the $250,000 cap can be disregarded in certain cases if the court and jury determine a higher amount is justified. SB 863 provides parameters for such cases. The bill contains no provisions for capping economic damages.
Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has made tort reform a priority in her administration.
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