Members of the business community throughout Oklahoma must be more
involved in supporting tort reform if they want such measures to pass
through the Oklahoma Legislature, in the opinion of some local
Reform of the state's civil justice system has been a
controversial issue for the past few legislative sessions, yet there
appears to be some lack of communication or understanding between
legislators and the insurance industry.
Judging by the way the hearings on the subject have concluded
and the questions that have been asked of insurance officials, it is
apparent some state lawmakers regard tort reform basically as an
But those in the insurance business believe tort reform is an
economic development issue.
"I think tort reform is one of the most significant economic
development issues facing the state," said Robert Medley, president
of Medley Gunter Rosenhamer, a property and casualty firm in
Jerry Johns, president of Southwestern Insurance Information
Service Inc., a public information group which represents property
and casualty firms in Texas and Oklahoma, believes the role of
insurers in this issue is to provide the information legislators
need to make their decisions.
"It is not our place as insurance people to encourage tort
reform," said Johns. "We are there simply to answer questions."
Perhaps the reason some legislators view tort reform as an
insurance issue is because the insurers are about the only people
who speak on the subject. While officials with the Oklahoma City
Chamber of Commerce and Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce and
Industry did address the legislative hearings held on tort reform
this year, insurance representatives were still far and away the
majority of those attending the hearings.
In the Senate Judiciary Committee meetings this year in which
tort reform was discussed, information provided by such firms as
AEtna Casualty and Surety Co. and the St. Paul Property and
Liability Insurance revealed tort reform would have no effect on
insurance rates of those companies.
Moreover, legislators were frustrated in their attempts to
uncover from insurance representatives information on what impact
tort reform has made in the other states which have passed it.
According to Johns, however, as other states have passed major
tort reform issues only in the last two to three years, it remains
too early to tell what the impact those laws will have.
For example, Kansas passed a law which requires a separate trial
on the issue of punitive damages, damages sought in the event a
defendant has shown a disregard for public safety.
In Texas, awards of punitive damages were capped at the greater
of either $200,000 or four times the cost of the actual damages.
In addition, Texas legislators changed its laws on joint and several
liability, where a defendant only minimally responsible for an
injury or damage might have to pay the full amount. The
modification in Texas was that defendants found to be liable for 20
percent or less of an injury or damage are severally liable.
Texas also passed a products liability law which pertains
exclusively to the prescription drug industry.
Here's a breakdown of other forms of tort reform passed by other
states, mostly in 1986, according to information from the Insurance
- Cap on non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering and
mental anguish - Colorado passed a $250,000 cap, while states such
as Utah and Michigan passed a $250,000 cap which applies to medical
malpractice suits only.
- Frivolous suits and defenses - laws to reduce the number of
frivolous suits filed were passed in such states as Connecticut,
Florida, Illinois, New York and North Carolina.
- Dram shop liability, limiting the liablity of sellers of
liquor, was passed in such states as Tennessee, Louisiana, Arizona
and Colorado. …