State Capitol, Oklahoma City – A tort plan issued by Governor Henry’s medical liability task force “falls far short” of being reform, Republican leaders said Friday.
“Unfortunately, the possibilities for real medical liability reform coming out of the Governor's Task Force were limited from the outset, with many of the most potent solutions for reform -- allowing defendants to pay judgments in proportion to their responsibility; an all-inclusive cap on non-economic damages at a reasonable $250,000; and ensuring that the bulk of any award goes to those who are injured, instead of their attorneys - was taken off the table,” said Lieutenant Governor Mary Fallin.
“As a result, the prescription being offered by the Governor in Senate Bill 629 is more Band-aid than cure - and there is nothing in the bill that will keep personal injury lawyers from participating in the Oklahoma lawsuit lottery,” Fallin said.
“This plan falls far short of true reform, and omits most of the minimum tort reform standards Republicans announced in April. True tort reform should be broad-based and comprehensive, including the business community, while this plan is very narrowly focused on a small segment of the medical community,” said Senate Republican Floor Leader James A. Williamson, R-Tulsa.
“We applaud the leaders of the medical community for trying to fight this uphill battle against the trial lawyers, but most rank-and-file medical professionals will probably not be satisfied with these baby steps. We hope this agreement does not take the medical community out of the long-term fight for comprehensive tort reform,” Williamson said.
“I am disappointed that this agreement does not offer the kind of relief that the hard working people in my district so desperately need. This so-called reform does little to nothing in assisting Oklahoma families with the skyrocketing cost of health care insurance,” said House Republican Leader Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville.
Oklahoma’s current medical liability system is designed to enrich trial lawyers by encouraging frivolous lawsuits. The result is higher malpractice insurance premiums for doctors, and higher health care costs for everyone.
“Not only is this not broad-based tort reform for businesses and the medical community, it is not even broad-based within the medical community itself. With its failure to eliminate joint and several liability or to provide a broad-based cap on non-economic damages, this plan will likely do little to reduce medical costs in the long run,” stated Senator Scott Pruitt, R-Broken Arrow.
“This closed-door deal is a shadow of lawsuit reform. Businesses need help, our municipalities need help, our schools need help, and families need affordable health insurance. This agreement is not the broad-based reform that is needed here in Oklahoma,” Rep. Mark Liotta, R-Tulsa.
“While I appreciate the Governor's decision to abandon his commitment on a moratorium on future tort reform efforts, I am concerned that his comment that we shouldn't ‘be tinkering with the provisions of this act’ signals that it is less a change of mind than a change of language,” Fallin concluded.
AMONG THE HENRY PLAN’S SHORTCOMINGS:
It fails to provide a comprehensive cap on non-economic damages, and the cap that is provided can be waived by a judge;
It fails to eliminate joint and several liability, so a physician who is found to be only partly at fault for an injury cannot be held liable for paying the entire judgment;
It does not limit attorneys’ contingency fees, a necessary reform to ensure that the bulk of any award goes to those who are injured instead of their attorneys