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OK special session puts lawsuit reforms back in place

By   /   September 11, 2013  /   No Comments

BINGMAN BEAMING: The Senate President Pro Tem was delighted with the restoration of lawsuit reforms during the special session that ended this week.

By Patrick B. McGuigan | Oklahoma Watchdog

OKLAHOMA CITY — The 2013 special session of the Oklahoma Legislature was nearly, but not quite, the soul of efficiency.

The five-day session settled some important policy questions, including the reenactment of a long-debated lawsuit reform bill.

Oklahoma trial lawyers may deliberate before taking a new run at limiting or gutting some of the new laws, but few analysts expect them to leave those measures unchallenged.

From the original cluster of 31 bills on the calendar when the special session began just nine days ago, Republicans in the two chambers settled on 23 measures that have the practical effect of reenacting key provisions of that 2009 lawsuit reform bill, the sweeping measure the state Supreme Court struck down on a 7-2 vote in early June.

The court had decided the broad original law violated the Sooner State’s “single subject” provisions. The special session quickly remedied that, putting the “old” 2009 provisions back into force.

By Monday, all but four of the restorative measures had passed with super-majorities, meaning 19 parts of the 2009 law went immediately back into effect with Gov. Mary Fallin’s signature Tuesday afternoon.

Four measures fell short of super-majorities, so they won’t take effect for 90 days. Still, as Fallin reminded reporters this week, her main objective in issuing the call for a special session was to have the key lawsuit reforms back in place by year’s end.

A favored theme for House Democrats during the session was that it was nothing more than a “special interest special session,” but the measure passed with Democratic support in the Senate. Opposition in House floor debates was more muted than might have been expected.

The mix of new laws puts back into place these stricken provisions:

  • Requiring certificates of merit (also described as “affidavits of merit”) for negligence cases in which which a professional expert witness is expected to testify.
  • Limitations on liability for varied products “inherently unsafe and known to be unsafe by the ordinary customer.”
  • Exemption of some records from discovery in professional malpractice cases.
 This provision included limits on medical liability.

Senate President Pro Temp Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, has made lawsuit reform his top priority during his tenure in the upper chamber’s top job. He approached the session with intensity, pointing to several examples of fresh tort litigation, as plaintiff attorneys tried to take advantage of this summer’s high court decision.

In comments to Capitol reporters, including Oklahoma Watchdog, Bingman stressed the economic gains he believes will flow from the new laws.

“The Senate quickly, efficiently and in a bipartisan way passed the 23 bills needed to close the window of legal uncertainty and restore important reform that is needed for our state’s economic development efforts and to ensure health care is affordable for all Oklahomans. I applaud the bipartisan support these bills received.”

You may contact McGuigan, bureau chief for the Watchdog.org network in Oklahoma City, at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com.

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Patrick B. McGuigan is bureau chief for the Oklahoma City Bureau of Watchdog.org, and works from the press room at the state Capitol. He is also the editor of CapitolBeatOK, and Associate Publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper. In 2013, The Washington Post blog “The Fix” designated Pat one of the best reporters in Oklahoma. In addition to the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists, where he serves as state secretary-treasurer, Pat is a member of the National Press Club and the Tulsa Press Club.