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Okla. expert opinion law ruled unconstitutional


OKLAHOMA CITY--The Oklahoma Supreme Court has overturned a 2003 medical malpractice liability reform law that required plaintiffs to present expert opinion supporting their claims at the time they file a lawsuit.

In its Tuesday decision in Monica B. Zeier vs. Zimmer Inc. and Theron S. Nichols, M.D., the court ruled 8-to-1 that the requirement violated the state constitution.

The case involved Ms. Zeier's claim that Dr. Nichols used the wrong medical device during her knee replacement surgery. A trial court, noting that Ms. Zeier had not filed the expert opinion to back her complaint, dismissed the case.

The state's high court, however, disagreed. "Treating medical malpractice plaintiffs with rules inapplicable to all other negligence claimants interjects a degree of arbitrariness which sabotages access to the courts," Chief Justice Joseph M. Watt wrote for the Oklahoma court.

The majority held that requiring a plaintiff to seek such expert opinion could cost the plaintiff thousands of dollars, thus creating "an unconstitutional barrier to the access of the courts guaranteed" by the state constitution.

The case was remanded for a hearing on the claims.

Monica B. Zeier vs. Zimmer Inc. and Theron S. Nichols, M.D., Oklahoma Supreme Court, No. 102472. Decided Dec. 19, 2006.