Looking at 'tort reform' in Oklahoma

Tuesday, February 3rd 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

In Governor Brad Henry’s ‘State of the State’ address Monday, he listed tort reform among his top priorities.

One problem is medical malpractice lawsuits. News on 6 reporter Rick Wells talked to both sides to get a better idea of the issue.

Governor Brad Henry: "The citizens of Oklahoma deserve meaningful and genuine tort reform and we will provide it." The governor has proposed an extensive reform of the way lawsuits are filed and resolved.

Many think the system is out of control. Nancy Medlin took her 3 year old, Max, to the dentist back in 1996, the work would be extensive, so he was given general anesthesia, complications developed and Max died. She wanted to know why, she sought legal help. “Doctors are gonna make mistakes when someone has been a victim of that mistake they deserve compensation."

She sued and won. A federal judge ruled there was negligence. The judgment was for less than one million dollars. Under the governor’s reform initiative, the amount of the judgment would have been limited by a $300,000 ceiling established by the legislature. Nancy’s attorney Monty Lair: "It's not up to the legislature to place these arbitrary limits on what somebody has suffered as a result of the loss of a spouse, or parent, or child."

But Dr Lynn Frame a Tulsa obstetrician and gynecologist says these spiraling judgments and settlements are driving up the cost of malpractice insurance. “It's getting to the point where we can't afford the cost of insurance to deliver medical care." And it's not practical or even possible to practice without it.

Dr Frame says doctors want patients who are injured to be compensated, but he says there are ways to do it without bankrupting the system. "This non economic damage, pain and suffering has to be dealt with." Most of the ways of dealing with it would limit the compensation for attorneys, so there is huge disagreement.

Nancy Medlin wants to know how the legislature could put a price tag on her son's life. Governor Henry said the Oklahoma plan would take the best of the recently passed Texas tort reform plan, but would not be limited by it.