Oklahoma has overhauled its procedures for medical malpractice lawsuits, reinstating pretrial certificates of merit and setting a limit on most pain-and-suffering damages.
Certificates of merit are affidavits from medical experts attesting to the validity of a plaintiff’s charges before a case goes to trial. The Oklahoma state Supreme Court threw out a similar requirement three years ago because it applied only to medical malpractice. Like the rest of the reform law, the new requirement applies to any case of professional negligence, not just accusations against physicians.
In addition, the law changes liability rules in cases with multiple defendants. Under the previous law, a doctor could be held responsible for the full amount of an award, regardless of his degree of fault.
Wes Glinsmann, director of state legislative and political affairs for the Oklahoma State Medical Association, gave this example of how the reform works: Suppose you are one of four defendants in a case where the judge or jury rendered a $2 million verdict and found you were 1% at fault. The other three defendants are unable to pay.
“Under the previous law, you would be responsible for the entire $2 million,” Glinsmann explained. “With this new law, you could only be held responsible for the entire judgment if you are more than 50% at fault.”
The bill also sets a cap of $400,000 on noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering, in most situations. A judge or jury would be allowed to ignore it in cases of extreme negligence or injuries.
The cap provisions are on hold for two years, however. That is when a task force is due to report on the feasibility of creating publicly financed indemnity fund to pay for damages above the cap. Until that fund is established, Oklahoma will continue to have no limit on damage awards of any kind.