Tort Reform Measure Fails to Pass Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee

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The Democrat-led state Senate Judiciary Committee voted to kill the House Republicans' major lawsuit reform bill on Tuesday. Although both of this year's major lawsuit reform proposals are now dead, the issue will certainly not be forgotten during the rest of this session, lawmakers said.

The 7-4 party-line vote to kill House Bill 3120 after amendments to improve the bill were rejected was called party politics at its worst by advocates for physicians and businesses.

The Legislature is putting politics above the people, said Dr. Bruce Storms, president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. Mike Seney, vice president of operations for The State Chamber, agreed.

I was extremely disappointed in our form of government, Seney said. That's probably the worst I've felt in 15 years.

State Sen. Charlie Laster, D-Shawnee, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the 120-plus page bill, by House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, was not salvageable by a few last-minute amendments.

This bill really is so flawed, it is my opinion that the author of this bill put in several horrible provisions to make sure the bill would not pass, thus the issue is kept alive for political purposes, Laster said.

During the discussion and debate on the bill, which lasted an hour and a half, Laster criticized certain portions of the bill that even Republican members of the committee sought to remove. For instance, the bill would have allowed an individual's life insurance benefit to be deducted from a judgment against the company responsible for his or her death. That is, if the victim had insurance, the amount of coverage would be discounted from the judgment against the defendant, even if fraudulence or negligence was involved.

Laster also criticized portions of the bill that would require lawsuits against out-of-state companies to be filed out of state, unless the case meets the $75,000 threshold to be held in federal court. The bill also would have done away with contingency fees for certain cases and contained a number of other provisions that would have made it very difficult for royalty owners to take oil and gas companies to court, Laster said.

State Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, said he agreed with some of Laster's arguments and so submitted an amendment during the meeting to address the issue. Other amendments by Crain and state Sen. James Williamson, R-Tulsa, and state Sen. Scott Pruitt, R-Tulsa, addressed various points brought up by Laster. However, the Democrat majority on the committee voted to table each amendment, a procedural move to get rid of the proposed changes.

I thought it was a good bill until he (Laster) started picking apart these things, Crain said. I thought this was trying to be a constructive situation. …

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