Journal Record Staff Reporter
Leaders of the Oklahoma State Chamber of Commerce Industry
are sore that a chamber-sponsored bill to tame punitive damage
awards will not be heard this year by the House of
Representatives Judiciary Committee.
At a legislative briefing luncheon Tuesday for reporters,
chamber President Richard Rush said it was a "travesty" that
Judiciary Chairman Bill Settle, D-Muskogee, elected not to hear
House Bill 2470.
David Rainbolt, chairman of the chamber's Civil Justice Reform
Committee, said the bill was "even handed, fair and fundamental _
so it's getting biased treatment.
"The $135,000 the trial lawyers spent in the 1992 election
cycle has spoken," said Rainbolt, who is chief executive officer
of BancFirst in Oklahoma City.
Contacted later, Settle said he's not hearing any bills on the
punitive damage issue because federal legislation is pending. He
said the committee would consider bills on the subject next
"There are several bills regarding this area, and all of the
bills are currently being discussed in Congress," he said.
"Probably, there will be legislation passed this year in regard
to these areas, and we'll have to take a look at it next year,
with the new federal legislation."
House Bill 2470, by Rep. Andy Bass, D-El Reno, would require
clear and convincing evidence of wanton and reckless disregard
for the rights of another person, oppression, fraud or malice in
order to warrant punitive damages.
If the evidence was beyond a reasonable doubt, a jury could
award damages "for the sake of example, and by way of punishing
Further, a defendant's net worth could not be considered in
making a punitive damage award.
"The higher burden of proof would encourage innocent parties
to avoid settling frivolous lawsuits and go to court and defend
themselves _ without worrying that confused juries would put them
out of business," Rainbolt said.
Current law requires a "preponderance" of evidence to make a
punitive damage award.
Chamber members felt their bill was even handed because it
recognized that punitive damages do have a place in the justice
system, Rainbolt said. "There are mean-spirited people out there
who should be punished severely, so there was no attempt to put
caps on the awards," he said.
Moreover, "the bill didn't address the underlying
determination of actual damages," Rainbolt said. "We're dealing
literally with the punishment of the defendant."
Beyond the disappointment of not going forward with the
punitive damage bill, chamber staff members listed a number of
measures they'll be following as the Legislature gets under way
on Monday. Following is a thumbnail sketch:
The chamber's Small Business Council has recommended that the
House Special Committee on Small Business be elevated to full
standing committee status. …