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Oklahoma Supreme Court rejects state's tort reform law


Oklahoma's tort reform law aimed at reducing lawsuits and capping noneconomic damages was struck down as unconstitutional this week by the state's high court.

The state's Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act of 2009, or H.B. 1603, affected civil cases such as personal injury, class actions and product liability by requiring plaintiffs to submit expert affidavits with petitions in certain negligence cases, among other requirements.

In a 7-2 majority opinion, the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Oklahoma City on Tuesday said that H.B. 1603 violated the state's “single-subject” rule in its constitution by “logrolling” unrelated topics into one bill.

The single-subject provision requires that each piece of the state's legislation address one subject.

The case involved a wrongful death lawsuit filed in 2009 by the estate of Richard Lee Douglas that alleged Cox Retirements Properties Inc.'s negligent care resulted in Mr. Douglas' death.

A lower court granted Cox's motion to dismiss the case due to the plaintiff's failure to comply with H.B. 1603. Mr. Douglas' estate responded to the motion by arguing that the state's tort reform was “unconstitutional logrolling in violation of the single-subject rule of … the Oklahoma Constitution,” according to court documents.

On appeal, the Supreme Court majority agreed with the plaintiff and held that H.B. 1603 violates the single-subject rule of the Oklahoma Constitution.

“The bill is unconstitutional and void in its entirety,” Justice Noma Gurich wrote in the opinion.

“This court finds the legislature’s use of the broad topic of lawsuit reform does not cure the bill’s single-subject defects,” Justice Gurich wrote. “Although the defendant argues the CLRA of 2009 does not constitute logrolling because the provisions within it are not so misleading as to create for a legislator an all-or-nothing choice, we find the provisions are so unrelated that those voting on the law were faced with an all-or-nothing choice to ensure the passage of favorable legislation.”

The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the high court’s ruling.