Category Archives: Oklahoma

October 2017 Newsletter

Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling could lead to medical lawsuit abuse Patients and physicians in Oklahoma could face a deteriorating liability climate in the coming years, as the state Supreme Court recently ruled against an effective liability reform. This setback to accessible and affordable care is the third time the Supreme Court has ruled against a certificate of merit requirement, following several revisions to past legislation which had also been invalidated by the Court. The latest version of the reforms included expanding the scope of expert witness affidavits to include all civil negligence actions which required testimony by an expert, following previous rulings that the law put a higher burden on victims of professional negligence than victims of general negligence. “We believe the certificate of merit has been an important legal reform that helped prevent baseless lawsuits, and we will look carefully at our options and next steps to address today’s ruling,” said Wes Glinsmann, executive director of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. Without an umbrella of federal reforms, medical liability at the state level has too often been a game of one step forward, two steps back, as reforms are passed and then continuously challenged by the personal injury lobby….

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Law written to deter frivolous malpractice lawsuits declared unconstitutional

A state law designed to deter the filing of frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits was declared unconstitutional Tuesday by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. This is the third time the state Supreme Court has struck down similar legislation. In each case, the Legislature attempted to deter frivolous negligence lawsuits by requiring the person filing the lawsuit to include an affidavit from an expert witness attesting that the claim has merit. “The obvious purpose of the affidavit requirement reflects the Legislature’s desire to weed out non-meritorious negligence claims,” the Supreme Court noted. However, all three rejected versions of the state statute created “a costly, meaningless and arbitrary barrier to court access,” the Court said. Justices also ruled that the rejected statute was an unconstitutional special law that “impinges on the district court’s adjudicative authority.” Legislatively removing “the discretionary component in (the) adjudicative process is a usurpation of the courts’ freedom that is essential to the judiciary’s independence from the other two branches,” the Supreme Court said. Wes Glinsmann, executive director of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, expressed disappointment in the ruling Tuesday. “We are in the process of reviewing the ruling but, at first glance, it certainly appears to be a disappointing step…

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Nearly Two Dozen Liability Reform Bills Adopted in Oklahoma Summer Push

Significant liability reform legislation is back on the books in Oklahoma following a special summer session of the state legislature. Last week Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law 23 separate liability reform bills, following a June ruling of the Oklahoma Supreme Court that tossed out a reform law the state adopted in 2009. The court ruled that the law violated the state’s constitutional provision that prohibits including more than one subject in a bill. The state legislature met earlier this month for its first special session since 2006 to reinstate the provisions of the overturned law in single-subject bills. Among the reforms included in these bills are an affidavit of merit requirement, expert testimony standards, and emergency and volunteer liability protections. The AMA and the Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA) worked together to advance the effort. “An ineffectual medical liability system reduces patients’ access to health care—particularly high-risk procedures,” the AMA stated in a letterPDF FIle of support sent to each state lawmaker. “It hinders patients’ communications with their physicians, adds to the costs of patients’ health care expenses and forces patients to go through additional tests and procedures.” “These laws had already begun paying dividends for Oklahoma’s physicians…

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Okla. Gov. Calls Special Session to Deal with Lawsuit Reform Law

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order Monday, calling for a special session of the state legislature to begin Sept. 3. The executive order calls on lawmakers to re-institute components of House Bill 1603, a lawsuit reform package signed into law in 2009. It was passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by then-Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat. In its June 4 opinion, a majority of the Oklahoma Supreme Court said the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act violates the single subject rule in the state constitution and is unconstitutional “logrolling.” “Logrolling” is the passing of legislation containing multiple subjects. The reform package included class action reforms, a cap on appeals bonds, adoption of summary judgment similar to that allowed in federal lawsuits, joint and several liability reforms, product liability reforms, junk science testimony rules, certificates of merit and a cap on non-economic damages. The law aimed to curb frivolous lawsuits and reduce court costs. “This bill is unconstitutional and void in its entirety,” the Supreme Court’s order stated. Justice Noma Gurich explained that the law’s 90 sections do not reflect a common theme. Fallin, a Republican, this week called on lawmakers to separate the law into appropriate bills, thus…

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Oklahoma State Medical Assocation president: Special session needed now

This summer, the Oklahoma Supreme Court threw out the bipartisan lawsuit reform measure that had been passed in 2009. Gov. Mary Fallin signaled her willingness to call a special session to address this ruling, but some in the Legislature reportedly have cold feet about a special session and would like to wait until next year. Oklahoma’s medical community can’t wait that long. I urge Fallin to call a special session as soon as possible. The reforms passed in 2009, coupled with those passed in 2011, were beginning to pay dividends for Oklahoma physicians, reducing the number of frivolous malpractice claims and setting the stage for reining in the growth of medical liability premiums. These changes were making Oklahoma a friendlier and more attractive practice environment for physicians and their patients. With the court’s decision, however, positive trends are in danger of being reversed. A special session is needed to make sure these important reforms are put back in place as soon as possible. The ruling has opened the floodgates to new potential lawsuits from the past four years. If we wait until the next legislative session to address this issue, without the passage of an emergency clause that requires a…

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Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us

1. Routine Care, Unforgettable Bills When Sean Recchi, a 42-year-old from Lancaster, Ohio, was told last March that he had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, his wife Stephanie knew she had to get him to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Stephanie’s father had been treated there 10 years earlier, and she and her family credited the doctors and nurses at MD Anderson with extending his life by at least eight years. Because Stephanie and her husband had recently started their own small technology business, they were unable to buy comprehensive health insurance. For $469 a month, or about 20% of their income, they had been able to get only a policy that covered just $2,000 per day of any hospital costs. “We don’t take that kind of discount insurance,” said the woman at MD Anderson when Stephanie called to make an appointment for Sean. Stephanie was then told by a billing clerk that the estimated cost of Sean’s visit — just to be examined for six days so a treatment plan could be devised — would be $48,900, due in advance. Stephanie got her mother to write her a check. “You do anything you can in a situation like that,” she says….

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State malpractice judgments at 10 year low

The number of Oklahoma malpractice judgments has come down sharply in the past two years and is at the lowest level of the decade, according to federal statistics. “It appears to me lawsuit reform is already delivering what it promised,” said Secretary of State Glenn Coffee, who as a state senator was one of the leaders of efforts to control rising medical costs by restraining malpractice suits. “I believe these positive signs will grow with time. This news will certainly help Oklahoma retain and recruit physicians.” Tort-reform opponents agree that the new legal environment is influencing the way attorneys do business but say that’s not a good thing. “Innocent people are being hurt by a law that was put in to help insurance companies using doctors as the bait and lawyers as the scapegoats,” said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. As a result, medically mangled Oklahomans are being barred from justice, said Morrissette, an attorney and a strident opponent of tort reform. Figures from the National Practitioner Data Bank – a congressionally established repository of malpractice records – show 114 malpractice payment reports in the state in 2011, down 28 percent from the level for 2009, the year Oklahoma lawmakers…

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Oklahoma enacts cap on noneconomic damages

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has signed into law a series of tort reform measures, including a $350,000 cap on noneconomic damages in civil liability cases. The Oklahoma State Medical Assn. said the cap is a victory in its fight for comprehensive medical liability reforms. Fallin said in a statement that the reforms will lessen burdens on medical professionals and increase access to care for patients. “I’m thrilled to be able to sign into law measures which will directly address skyrocketing legal fees, protect our doctors, and help to bring more jobs and businesses into Oklahoma while still protecting the rights of plaintiffs and those who have suffered injuries,” she said. “This is a great day for anyone who is committed to building a more prosperous state and a stronger economy.” Joint and several liability also were eliminated as part of the laws signed April 5. The term refers to defendants being potentially liable for the entire amount of a plaintiff’s damages, regardless of their degree of fault. The damage cap improves upon state tort reform measures passed in 2009, said Wes Glinsmann, director of state legislation and political affairs for the state medical association. The 2009 law requires that civil…

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