Oklahoma Special Session on Tort Reform

On June 4, 2013, in Douglas v. Cox Retirementthe Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down all statutes that were passed in 2009 as the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act (CLRA), finding the statutes violated the “single subject” rule of the Oklahoma Constitution. The single-subject rule means that a statute may only address one issue. In the decision, the court held that the enactment of the CLRA amounted to “logrolling.”  Logrolling is a method used by legislators to get unpopular measures into the law books by rolling them together with a few popular measures and bringing the whole package up for a vote.

What the CLRA did was make it more difficult  for an average citizen who has experienced an injury or damage to bring a lawsuit. For example, one of the provision required that a plaintiff obtain a “certificate of merit” from an expert when filing a professional negligence lawsuit. It also required that a plaintiff provide a computation of damages and supporting evidence for the damages within 60 days of filing a suit (gathering evidence of damages often takes longer than that). The CLRA also provided protection for firearm manufacturers, agritourism operators, restaurants and food distributors against obesity claims, and provided protection for manufacturers of products that are inherently unsafe and known to be unsafe.

In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision, Governor Mary Fallin called the legislature into special session to address the tort reform issues.  Usually special sessions are reserved for emergencies and many people oppose calling a special session arguing that the situation is not an emergency. Another argument opposing a special session is that we should trust our jurors. Jurors have the ultimate say on whether to award damages.  The people and businesses that the CLRA was meant to protect still have protection from frivolous lawsuits and excessive damages if jurors do their part in the justice system.

The special session could cost taxpayers as much as $30,000 per day and is estimated to take at least a week.  The next regular session will begin in February, less than half a year away.  Why Governor Fallin has determined the striking down of the CLRA is considered an emergency which warrants the spending of $150,000 of taxpayer money is anyone’s guess.