Oklahoma Throws Out Med Mal “Tort Reform”

My hat is off to the good judges on the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals.

OKLAHOMA CITY — For at least the second time in slightly more than a year, a state appeals court has told lawsuit reform proponents that they got it wrong. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals has struck down a lawsuit reform statute, saying it treats medical malpractice plaintiffs differently from others who file lawsuits. The decision comes in the wake of a 2006 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that tossed another measure. The justices said it put medical negligence cases in a separate class from all other negligence claims and created a monetary barrier to the courts by requiring an expert witness to attest to a case’s merits. The most recent decision comes just weeks before lawmakers return to the Capitol, where a renewed battle over lawsuit reform is expected. Last year, Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a controversial lawsuit reform measure, Senate Bill 507, saying several provisions were unconstitutional, unduly restricted access to the courts, and didn’t do enough to curb frivolous lawsuits.

The Court of Civil Appeals decision issued Thursday said Lisa K. Jones could pursue her case in Oklahoma County for the alleged wrongful death of her husband, Michael W. Jones, who died after surgery at an Oklahoma City hospital. The trial court had tossed Jones’ case after she failed to inform defendants of the suit within 180 days. The appeals court said a tort reform package passed in 2003 that required such notification treated medical malpractice plaintiffs differently. The opinion said other plaintiffs had the ability to show the court why notification was not made within 180 days but that medical negligence plaintiffs had no such opportunity. The law “holds medical negligence plaintiffs to different and stricter standards than any other plaintiffs,” the opinion states.