For Immediate Release:
December 19, 2005
Senator Glenn Coffee and Rep. Todd Hiett along with Rep.
Sen. Cliff Branan and Sen. Ron Justice take questions from the press
after the announcement
of their 2006 lawsuit reform agenda.
House & Senate GOP Leaders Announce Lawsuit Reform as Top Priority
House and Senate Republican leaders today announced
meaningful lawsuit reform as the top priority for the upcoming 2006
Speaker of the House Todd Hiett and Senate Republican Leader Glenn
Coffee said enacting meaningful lawsuit reform is a must if the
state wants to attract and keep good jobs.
Coffee and Hiett said the burden of passing the omnibus lawsuit
reform in the 2006 legislative session rests solely on Senate Democrat
leaders, who have blocked meaningful lawsuit reform the past three
years on behalf of their trial lawyer allies. The GOP leaders said
if the Senate can't or won't pass a real reform bill early in the
session, there is little chance that an agreement can be reached
Hiett and Coffee pointed out that Senate Democrats gutted the Justice
and Common Sense Act during the 2005 session, even though the measure
easily passed the House of Representatives and had widespread support
across the state.
"Hardworking Oklahomans deserve better job opportunities,
higher wages and lower healthcare costs," said Speaker Todd
Hiett (R-Kellyville). "Fundamental lawsuit reform is the most
important thing we can do for Oklahoma in the upcoming session.
Junk lawsuits create a hidden tax on all Oklahomans, while trial
lawyers manipulating the system line their pockets from jackpot
"Oklahoma is losing good jobs and missing out on opportunities
to attract new ones because of our inability to keep up with neighboring
states that have passed real lawsuit reform. Which major employer
will be the next to leave our state if the Legislature fails to
stop lawsuit abuse in 2006?" stated Coffee (R-Oklahoma City).
"Senate Democrats need to make their choice: Do they want to
help attract good jobs to Oklahoma by passing meaningful, comprehensive
reform, or do they want to continue their fight to keep the trial
lawyers on the gravy train?"
Senate Democrats have consistently tried to kill meaningful lawsuit
reform. In 2003 and 2004, watered-down lawsuit reform bills passed
the Democrat-controlled state Legislature and were signed into law
by the governor.
"Even though trial lawyers have controlled the Senate for
many years, this is a chance for Senate Democrats to show they can
lead and do the right thing," said Hiett. "Now is the
time for true reform. The Democrats have no more excuses."
The Justice and Common Sense Act aims to create a stronger economic
climate, reduce health care costs and increase access to quality
health care in Oklahoma by stopping junk lawsuits in the state's
legal system. Hiett said that as the legal system in Oklahoma has
grown increasingly abusive, people from all walks of life now fear
they could become the target of lawsuits.
Coffee said Oklahoma's abusive lawsuit climate makes healthcare
more expensive. Doctors must pay huge malpractice insurance costs
to protect themselves, and the cost is passed on to patients.
The Justice & Common Sense Act will tackle five major areas
1. Quick and Fair Compensation for Injured People: The Justice
and Common Sense Act will make it easier for injured people (plaintiffs)
and defendants with strong cases to win on summary judgment, rather
than going through the painful, expensive and difficult process
of a trial.
2. No more Hunting for "Deep Pockets" in Lawsuits:
*Joint and Several Liability reform: Right now, lawyers fishing
for jackpot verdicts use "joint and several liability,"
the so-called "deep pocket" rule, that holds each defendant
in a legal action responsible for the entire amount of damages a
plaintiff seeks, regardless of the degree of responsibility. The
rule means trial lawyers hunt for financially lucrative defendants.
The solution is a proportionate liability rule, under which defendants
will only be responsible for their relative share of damages. Oklahoma
has a weak proportionate liability rule - the Justice and Common
Sense Act will replace the current weak rule with a true proportionate
3. Cleaning up Class Action: An important and legitimate part of
Oklahoma's legal system, class action suits in recent years have
unfortunately turned into a shakedown racket for some trial lawyers.
In a notorious case against Jiffy Lube in Oklahoma, attorneys collected
millions in fees while the clients got coupons for car service.
Cleaning up class action will address two areas.
*If clients get coupons, the lawyers get coupons.
*Limit "contingency" fees: Lawyers will be paid for the
hours they actually work, just like everyone else in Oklahoma.
4. Reduce Health Care Costs for Hardworking Oklahomans:
*Putting limits on non-economic damages (a comprehensive cap on
non-economic damages) - Money for pain and suffering should be set
at common sense levels. Right now, the system is too often abused,
hurting both injured people and defendants.
*Greater freedom for doctors to give free care to disadvantaged
and indigent Oklahomans - Doctors will be able to provide charity
care without worrying about insurance.
5. Common Sense Protection for Business Owners:
*Lawyers sue businesses that make products that have already been
approved by the federal government as safe. This will end under
the new system. *Choice-based products that everyone knows can be
harmful - such as fast food - should not be subject to lawsuits.
For more information contact:
Senate Republican Assistant's Office- (405) 521-5654