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No More Oklahoma Tort Reform Cap

The Impact of Tort Reform Cap

In 2011 the Oklahoma Legislature enacted as part of its “tort reform” package a “cap” or limit on the amount a plaintiff could recover for non-economic damages. Non-economic damages were defined as all damages other than medical bills or lost wages. While there were exceptions, these would be rare in actual litigation.

A homemaker whose spine was broken in a truck accident would have been limited to $350,000 before attorney fees and court costs. The advocates of the cap claimed the limit would discourage frivolous litigation and lower insurance costs. My auto insurance didn’t go down. Did yours?

Frivolous cases, if worth anything at all, are not going to bring $350,000. No insurance company stays in business by paying on foolish lawsuits. Rather, the only effect of the “reform” was to penalize people with devastating injuries. 

Unfortunately, for the “reformers,” the Oklahoma Constitution since statehood has prohibited any cap or limit on damages for wrongful death. The Oklahoma Constitution can only be amended by a vote of the people, not the legislature.

Indeed, the tort reform movement has been shown to be liars. The infamous Stella Awards given to the most absurd lawsuits were proven and admitted lies. No one ever sued Winnebago because they were asleep in the back when it crashed and claimed the RV was defective because the cruise control didn’t prevent the collision. There was never a case of a man suing because he used his lawn mower to trim his hedge.

After a 15-million-dollar verdict in Oklahoma County District Court for the loss of an arm and other injuries was capped at $350,000, the plaintiff appealed. In Beeson v. I. E. Services#114,301(2019 OK 28) the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the legislature had created separate and unequal classes of plaintiffs – those who managed to survive and those who died. Had Beeson died, his verdict would have been upheld.

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This ruling is not only a victory for injured plaintiffs but also one for fundamental fairness. It also speaks well of the independent Judiciary. For further questions feel free to call us.

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