House panel passes more lawsuit reforms

The Oklahoma House Judiciary committee passed two lawsuit reform measures Monday (March 21) that are part of a full reform package supported by the state’s top three Republican elected officials, Governor Mary Fallin, Speaker Kris Steele and President Pro-Tem Brian Bingman.

Senate Bill 862 and Senate Bill 865, by Rep. Dan Sullivan, a Tulsa Republican, and Sen. Anthony Sykes, a Moore Republican, would eliminate joint and several liability and require juries receive accurate information regarding tax impact on awards.

“Both of these measures are common sense reforms and part of our lawsuit reform agenda this session,” said Steele.  “Our efforts will protect defendants from judgments that exceed their liability and allow juries to make informed decisions when determining awards.”

Under current law, defendants can be held responsible for paying a higher portion of awards beyond the percentage of their fault to plaintiffs, based on their ability to pay. S.B. 862 would eliminate this practice.

S.B. 865 would instruct juries that no part of an award for damages for personal injury or wrongful death is subject to federal or state income tax.  The measure would also require that any exhibit relating to damage awards shall reflect accurate tax ramifications.

Both measures passed House Judiciary 10-5 and will now be considered by the full House of Representatives.

Last week, the House sent to the Senate a proposal for “hard caps” on non-economic damages in tort litigation. Although that measure prevailed 57-40, it was short of the super-majority needed for enactment of an emergency clause. Further, passage came after a stormy couple of days of debate in which the measure initially failed. Final passage only came after a dizzying array of 14 roll call votes on Wednesday, March 16.

Note: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.