Friday, March 4, 2011

Guest editorial: Speaker Kris Steele

Meaningful Lawsuit Reforms  
By House Speaker Kris Steele
Legislation passed in the House Judiciary Committee this week could change the economic landscape and provide greater access to healthcare services. House Bill 2128 is paving the way for meaningful lawsuit reforms in Oklahoma. The measure would establish a cap of $300,000 for noneconomic damages in all civil actions.
The legal system exists to provide an avenue for victims to seek remedies from those who have caused damage or harm. Justice for every Oklahoman is paramount and protecting an individual’s right to a fair and equitable hearing is vital. However, misuse can occur in the court system and when abuse transpires, litigation is often transformed into a weapon that is used in frivolous lawsuits. Judgments of astronomical awards distort the settlement and judicial processes and create wildly inconsistent outcomes in similar cases. Significant lawsuit reform is needed to establish uniformity and common sense to the civil justice process.
HB 2128 includes language designed to protect individuals who have suffered injuries arising from bodily harm by declaring that awards rendered for actual economic losses would not be subject to any limitations. The proposal is aimed at establishing fairness in the civil justice setting by striking a balance in protecting the rights of victims and guarding against abuse of runaway juries.
Currently, Oklahoma does not have a cap in place for noneconomic damages. A compromise bill signed into law in 2009 was contingent upon the creation of an indemnity fund and would have imposed a $400,000 cap for negligent cases. However, the indemnity fund never received an appropriation and did not take effect. This session the Legislature is pursuing reforms that are not dependent upon additional taxpayer funding. The reforms contained in House Bill 2128 could reduce the burden and costs on businesses while encouraging job growth across the state. This is a critical component in reaching our state’s economic potential. 
Lawsuit reform is not only relevant for job creation, it is also necessary to protect access to quality healthcare. Predatory lawsuits require doctors to purchase costly malpractice insurance.  For this reason, many doctors choose to practice across state lines. In addition, defensive medicine occurs when physicians order unnecessary and expensive medical tests and procedures to avoid lawsuits. These and other factors contribute to skyrocketing healthcare costs. The high price of medical care coupled with a shortage of healthcare professionals lead to limited access and poor health indicators. By enacting sensible lawsuit reforms, Oklahoma will send a clear message to the business and medical communities that we value their services in our state.
The proposals contained in House Bill 2128 will help create a stronger business climate and healthier Oklahoma.

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