Oklahoma Governor Calls Special Session on Lawsuit Reform

August 13, 2013

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin has called for a special session of the Oklahoma Legislature, to begin Sept. 3 for work on lawsuit reform.

Gov. Mary Fallin’s executive order calls on lawmakers to re-institute components of House Bill 1603, a comprehensive lawsuit reform package signed into law in 2009.

HB 1603 was designed to reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits and medical malpractice claims filed in Oklahoma, making the state more business friendly and protecting Oklahoma physicians from frivolous lawsuits. It was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by Democratic Governor Brad Henry.

Earlier this year, the law was struck down by the Oklahoma Supreme Court for violating the Constitution’s “single-subject” rule, a prohibition on legislative logrolling.

Fallin wants legislators to separate the law into appropriate bills, thus reinstating the policy without violating the single subject rule.

Leaders of Oklahoma’s House and Senate encouraged Gov. Fallin to call the special session to work on restoring the legislation, according to Associated Press reports.

The 2009 legislation made a number of changes to how civil lawsuits are filed and litigated in the state, including redefining what constitutes a frivolous lawsuit and strengthening summary judgment rules that make it easier for a judge to dismiss a lawsuit that has no legal merit.

The bill changed joint and individual liability guidelines to alter so-called “deep pocket” rules that had allowed an injured person to recover all damages from any defendant regardless of their individual share of liability. The measure also capped pain and suffering damages at $400,000 but allowed a judge or jury to waive the cap in cases of gross negligence or catastrophic injury.

Not all Oklahoma lawmakers agree that a special session to address a civil lawsuit bill is needed. The Associated Press reported that House Democratic leader Rep. Scott Inman called it “waste of time and money.” Inman said he believes most Oklahomans agree with members of his caucus that spending about $30,000 per day to vote on a bill that can be taken up in February is a waste of taxpayer money.

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