Head of legal reform institute says Okla. lawmakers need to address lawsuit reform law now

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Aug 6, 2013

OKLAHOMA CITY (Legal Newsline) -- The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for Legal Reform says it is "vital" that Oklahoma lawmakers work quickly to address a recent state Supreme Court ruling that invalidated its lawsuit reform law.

In a short letter to The Oklahoman Saturday, President Lisa Rickard disagreed with the newspaper that there is no need to expedite the process of a special session to address court's ruling in June.

In its June 4 opinion, a majority of the state's high court said the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act, adopted nearly four years ago, violates the single subject rule in the state constitution and is unconstitutional "logrolling." "Logrolling" is the passing of legislation containing multiple subjects.

The reform package, which went into effect Nov. 1, 2009, included class action reforms, a cap on appeals bonds, adoption of summary judgment similar to that allowed in federal lawsuits, joint and several liability reforms, product liability reforms, junk science testimony rules, certificates of merit and a cap on non-economic damages.

The law aimed to curb frivolous lawsuits and reduce court costs.

"This bill is unconstitutional and void in its entirety," the Supreme Court's order stated.

Justice Noma Gurich explained that the law's 90 sections do not reflect a common theme.

"The reform legislation, House Bill 1603, represented an important step to improve Oklahoma's litigation climate -- a critical factor that affects key business decisions such as where to locate or do business," Rickard wrote. "It's vital that the Legislature re-enact HB 1603 with haste.

"Indeed, in one fell swoop, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has thrown out important laws that businesses have relied on over the past four years. And it goes without saying that an unstable legal system will inevitably lead to more litigation, increased costs and unnecessary burdens."

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Gov. Mary Fallin is considering whether to call a special session to make changes to the law.

The newspaper, in an editorial last month, noted that the court's ruling was "highly disappointing," but argues that a special session would be too expensive.

"A special session would likely last a week, and that's provided agreement could be reached quickly on the many separate bills needed to address the court's concerns about lawmakers painting with too broad a brush the first time around. That's also assuming no other issues are placed on the session docket; if that were to change, then the timeline (and price tag) would too.

"Better to take the time needed to get lawsuit reform right, and do so during the regular session."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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