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Oklahoma passes broad tort reforms


OKLAHOMA CITY--Oklahoma's Legislature has sent to Gov. Brad Henry a broad tort reform bill that would impose caps on certain damages and aims to reduce frivolous litigation in the state, among other changes.

Gov. Henry, whose office did not return calls, has not publicly stated whether he plans to sign the tort reform package. He has five days to consider S.B. 507, which cleared the House this week and was passed by the Senate earlier this year.

Among the highlights of the 199-page bill are:

  • Defining "frivolous" lawsuits and setting guidelines for such suits, including a provision requiring parties that introduce frivolous litigation and lose to reimburse defendants for legal costs.

  • Providing strict guidelines for lay and expert witnesses, and requiring pretrial hearings for expert witnesses to weigh qualifications prior to trial.

  • Setting guidelines and limits for punitive damages, stating that punitive damages in professional liability cases can be awarded only if courts finds clear and convincing evidence that the defendant is guilty of gross or intentional negligence.

  • Limiting noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, to $300,000 unless the jury find evidence that defendant was grossly negligent, or acted maliciously or intentionally.

  • Shielding restaurants and food manufacturers from lawsuits claiming they are responsible for their customer's eating habits.

  • Freeing firearms manufacturers and retailers from liability in shooting cases, stating that it is "the unlawful use" of a gun and not the "lawful manufacture, distribution, or sale" of a gun that is the cause of injury.