Oklahoma governor considers tort reform bill

Chris Rizo May 8, 2008, 5:00pm

Gov. Brad Henry

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. (Legal Newsline)-Legislation that would require an expert opinion confirming professional negligence before a lawsuit could be filed is headed to Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry's desk.

The measure, outlined in House Bill 2458, is widely expected to be vetoed by the Democratic governor.

Critics say the proposal, championed by some House Republicans, resembles legislation passed in 2004 that the state Supreme Court struck down in 2006 as unconstitutional.

In that case, the high court ruled that the costs associated with obtaining so-called "certificates of merit" placed an undue financial burden on litigants.

Proponents, however, say the law would curb frivolous lawsuits that clog the state court's civil dockets.

"It has been my personal experience that requiring an expert report prior to filing a lawsuit has the effect of greatly reducing frivolous lawsuits," state Rep. Dan Sullivan, R-Tulsa, was quoted by The Journal Record as saying.

"It is not proper to file a case and then find out if it has merit. Requiring an expert report will be a big step in the right direction for our state," he added.

Last month, Oklahoma lawmakers jettisoned a proposed comprehensive tort overhaul.

The proposal would have asked voters whether to cap attorney contingency fees at 33 percent instead of 50 percent in personal injury cases.

State lawmakers originally sought to cap non-economic damages at $300,000 and require potential members of a class action to opt into participation in the lawsuit.

The legislation, long sought by tort reformers, also would have included a joint and several liability provision that would require monetary judgments to be issued based on who is at fault rather than which of the defendants can afford to pay the award.

Once it reached a full House vote, the 120-page bill was amended to just place on the ballot a proposal to cap contingency fees in personal injury cases.

Current Oklahoma law prohibits attorneys from claiming more than 50 percent of a jury award as an attorney fee.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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