Oklahoma governor signs landmark tort reform bill

Chris Rizo May 22, 2009, 7:29am

Brad Henry (D)

OKLAHOMA CITY (Legal Newsline)- Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry on Thursday signed into law a comprehensive tort reform bill, aimed at curbing frivolous lawsuits and reducing the costs of the civil justice system.

House Bill 1603, which handily passed both houses of the state Legislature, capped months of negotiations between lawmakers, business groups, doctors, mineral owners and the state's trial lawyers.

The legislation, backed by the State Chamber of Oklahoma, limits pain and suffering -- or noneconomic -- damages to $400,000 except in exceptional circumstances. An indemnity fund will be created to cover damages in excess of $400,000.

The new law, which takes effect Nov. 1, also redefines what constitutes a frivolous lawsuit and changes joint and several liability rules so that an injured party may recover all damages from any defendant regardless of their share of blame.

In a statement, Mike Seney, senior vice president of operations at The State Chamber, said the new law will help the state create jobs, attract new businesses to the state and increase health care accessibility.

"This bill is the most important piece of work for the business community to come out of Oklahoma in a long time," Seney said. "This bill gives Oklahoma more momentum in an economic climate when we need it. Not only does this bill put us on par with surrounding states, it allows us to pass them."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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