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September 3, 2013

Special Session: Tort reform sole topic for debate

OKLAHOMA CITY —

 At the request of Gov. Mary Fallin, the Oklahoma Legislature returned to the state Capitol on Tuesday for a special session to address changes to the way civil lawsuits are handled in the state.
The House and Senate convened shortly after 1 p.m. for the first special session since 2006. It is the first time Fallin has called a special session.
Fallin, a Republican, requested the special session after the Oklahoma Supreme Court in June threw out a comprehensive 2009 bill that overhauled the state’s civil justice system.
“I think this is one of the most important issues facing the state of Oklahoma,” Fallin said on Tuesday. “That’s why I’ve called a special session today. It’s important for our business climate, not only retaining businesses and attracting new businesses, but it’s also important to helping with our high medical costs in the state.”
Fallin and other proponents of the changes say they help protect businesses and doctors from frivolous lawsuits, but opponents claim they restrict the access of citizens to the court. 
Fallin said since the tort-reform bill passed in 2009, the number of medical malpractice cases in the state dropped 39 percent.
But the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the bill was an unconstitutional example of “logrolling,” or including multiple subjects in a single bill. As a result, legislators plan to introduce about 30 separate bills to address all of the changes that were made in 2009.
In a separate ruling, the state’s highest court also rejected as unconstitutional a requirement that plaintiffs in professional negligence lawsuits must have an expert endorse their case in what is referred to as a certificate of merit. The court said requiring that certificate “creates a monetary barrier to access the court system.”
House and Senate leaders said Tuesday they planned to introduce a certificate of merit bill, although it’s not clear if such a measure would pass constitutional muster.

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