Oklahoma Supreme Court strikes down tort reform legislation passed in 2009

published in McAfee & Taft Oklahoma Law Alert | June 6, 2013

On June 4, 2013, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck all statutes that were passed in 2009 as the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act (CLRA), finding the statutes violate the Oklahoma Constitution. The court entered two decisions.

In the first case — a case alleging medical negligence – the court found the statute requiring an affidavit of merit in professional negligence actions was a “special law,” meaning that it applies to only a certain class of persons. The court found the law created a “new subclass of tort victims and tortfeasors” by requiring victims to obtain an affidavit of merit prior to proceeding with a lawsuit. The court also found the affidavit requirement creates an unconstitutional financial burden on access to the courts.

In the second case, which is also a case alleging medical negligence, the court examined other sections of the CLRA, finding that the CLRA violated the “single subject” rule of the Oklahoma Constitution “logrolling” unrelated statutes into one bill. In other words, the court struck the CLRA, finding the legislation impermissibly addressed numerous unrelated areas.

In addition to requiring affidavits of merit in professional negligence cases, the CLRA included statutes addressing many areas, including the following: class actions, appeal bond caps, asbestos claims (including protections for successor companies), specific products liability limitations, volunteer liability, medical peer review confidentiality and others.

The Litigation Group at McAfee & Taft recognizes that these decisions will affect many clients in different ways, and we will continue to evaluate the impact of this ruling. Clients in healthcare and manufacturing may be the most keenly aware of this change, although any client involved in litigation will likely feel the brunt of this to some extent.

In short, this turns back the clock to 2009.

If you would like to discuss your particular concerns about this ruling, please contact your McAfee & Taft attorney or other qualified litigation counsel.