Oklahoma Senate Committee Passes Bill to Revise 2003 Tort Reform Law

By Francis-Smith, Janice | THE JOURNAL RECORD, February 14, 2007 | Go to article overview

Oklahoma Senate Committee Passes Bill to Revise 2003 Tort Reform Law


Francis-Smith, Janice, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Responding to an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling declaring part of Oklahoma's tort reform laws unconstitutional, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed a bill intended to fix the problem. In a surprising turn of events, not only did the bill receive bipartisan support, but it was authored by a Democrat.

Senate Bill 824, by state Sen. Susan Paddock, would revise a law passed in 2003 that the Oklahoma Supreme Court found unconstitutional. The bill would also implement a few additional measures designed to limit the number of allegedly frivolous lawsuits filed against physicians.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court in December issued a ruling that threw out the state law requiring anyone filing a malpractice lawsuit to obtain an affidavit from a medical expert asserting that the case has merit. The affidavit was required for medical malpractice cases only.

By singling out medical malpractice lawsuits for the affidavit requirement, the Legislature created a constitutionally prohibited "special law," arbitrarily singling out a class for special treatment, the court ruled. Additionally, the law created a barrier to the courts for the poor, who cannot afford to obtain the affidavits as a requirement for filing. Such affidavits may cost $500-$5,000 to obtain, the court found.

Since the law was passed in 2003, the number of lawsuits filed against physicians in Oklahoma has dropped roughly 40 percent, said Carl T. Hook, M.D., president and CEO of Oklahoma City-based Physicians Liability Insurance Company (PLICO).

However, in January 2007, there were 45 lawsuits filed against physicians in Oklahoma - the most cases filed in one month since the peak month of June 2003. In 2006, a total of 413 medical malpractice lawsuits were filed, averaging less than 35 cases per month, according to a chart provided by Phillips McFall McCaffrey McVay & Murrah attorney Cori Loomis. In 2005, only 325 malpractice lawsuits were filed, averaging about 27 per month.

The numbers show the new law had been working, said Hook. In January 2007, PLICO was able to lower its rates for the first time since 2001, he said. It's taken about three years for the 2003 reforms to take full effect, as cases filed before the reforms were enacted are just now reaching completion. …

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