Bingman, Steele cheer advance of two lawsuit reforms

The State House approved two lawsuit reform bills yesterday (Tuesday, March 29) that mark forward progress for long-standing conservative Republican policy objectives in Oklahoma. While short of margins needed to include emergency clauses, the measures won overwhelming approval and are expected to gain Governor Mary Fallin’s signature.

 Senate Bill 862 will eliminate joint and several liability, while Senate Bill 865 will require that a jury be given information regarding the tax impact of awards. 

 “In large part, lawsuit reform is about fairness, equality and accurate information,” said President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, a Sapulpa Republican.  “These measures ensure that defendants remain responsible for an equal portion of their liability and that juries are given full and accurate information as they are faced with the task of determining an award.”

 “No one should have to pay for the wrongdoing of others,” said Sen. Anthony Sykes of Moore, the Senate sponsor of the bills.  “Defendants should be required to pay their share of damages but no more than the amount that they are responsible; eliminating joint and several liability will guarantee that equality within the system.”

 Sykes also said that juries deserve to have information regarding the tax impact on awards.  “We believe that juries should have access to all information related to the judgment.  Anytime we ask a jury to make a decision that will impact peoples lives we should make sure that they have access to full and accurate information.”

 Both bills were part of the Senate Republican Jobs Agenda announced early this year. 

 On the House side, Speaker Kris Steele of Shawnee and Rep. Dan Sullivan of Tulsa also commented on the two bills.

 Steele described himself as “extremely pleased by the House passage of these two measures. Oklahoma lawmakers are taking the task of reforming our state’s legal system very seriously. S.B. 862 will protect and promote individual responsibility by providing accountability for those who cause injuries, while guarding against unfairly prosecuting individuals for the negligence of others. ”

 Sullivan observed, “This legislation applies a common-sense standard to lawsuits, ensuring that each person is held responsible for his or her actions alone and not the actions of others. That is a reasonable approach which also reduces the incentive for individuals to file frivolous lawsuits.”

 Yesterday, Fred Morgan of the State Chamber commented, “These reforms are critical to bringing some cost certainty to the legal system for the business and medical community, all while protecting the courts for those with legitimate cases. We have an opportunity this legislative session to put in place meaningful lawsuit reform that will help our state attract investment and jobs and improve access to affordable, quality health care.”

 Both measures now pending with Governor Mary Fallin, who had asked Republicans in both chambers to “fast track” GOP agenda items.
NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.