Oklahoma Supreme Court overturns law that caps pain and suffering in personal injury lawsuits
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Supreme Court has passed state law limiting compensation for pain and suffering in personal injury claims.
The state’s highest court ruled Tuesday that a civil law law limiting noneconomic damage in personal injury suits to $ 350,000 is an unconstitutional special law that treats people who survive injuries differently from those who do not.
The ruling includes a lawsuit by an oil field service provider whose left arm was amputated following an accident.
An Oklahoma County jury awarded the worker and his wife $ 6 million in pain and suffering, an award that was reduced to $ 700,000 by the cap.
The cap was passed by lawmakers and signed into law by former Governor Mary Fallin in 2011.
It is one of several civil justice reform measures that have been declared invalid.
“This is a great victory for injured people across Oklahoma. It provides an opportunity for personal injury victims to receive the compensation they deserve for their pain and suffering, ”said local attorney Bryce Johnson. “It was clear to the Supreme Court that the legislature cannot arbitrarily restrict compensation for victims. We will continue to fight for the rights of victims against the strong corporate interests that often arise in such cases. “
However, several Senate leaders criticized this decision.
“It is not surprising that the Oklahoma Supreme Court has put down a reform bill under the auspices of a ‘special law’. The Supreme Court has previously shown its reluctance to reform the litigation, and when the court dislikes a law, they resort to their old willingness to use “special laws” or “one-subject rules” to ditch constitutionally sound bills . If the Supreme Court cannot consistently apply these standards, lawmakers may want to consider remedial action that would standardize the application of these important provisions of the state constitution, ”said Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City.
The court continues to go outside of its constitutional interpretation of the law, said Senator Julie Daniels, chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The courts are supposed to be independent arbitrators for the constitutionality of the legislation, but you cannot blame Oklahomans for challenging that independence when the court arbitrarily uses the” special law “and the” one subject rule “to put down laws, that the dish doesn’t like. This is an issue that should be further explored by members of the Legislature, ”said Daniels, R-Bartlesville.
Senate Democratic Chairman Kay Floyd approved the court’s decision and released this statement:
“On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that arbitrary limits on pain and harm suffered by lawmakers are unconstitutional. In 2009, the majority of legislators pushed through laws limiting pain and harm, despite repeated warnings that it was unconstitutional.
This week’s Supreme Court ruling on the case is in line with nearly a decade of previous court rulings that struck down laws for violating the Oklahoma Constitution. From 2010 to 2013 alone, the Oklahoma District Courts, 10th Court of Appeals, and Oklahoma Supreme Court found that 14 laws were unconstitutional.
It is a waste of taxpayers’ money for the majority to keep passing clearly unconstitutional laws. While it’s not surprising that some are now complaining about the arbitrator for disagreeing with the appeal, the point is that they go further by attacking the independence of the courts and threatening the Oklahoma Constitution in response to change. We have three equal branches of government, and the independence of the judiciary is a pillar of the American system of government that must be protected. “
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