Oklahoma House approves tort reform measure

Wednesday, May 28th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Medical malpractice lawsuits are limited under a bill on tort reform that was given final approval Tuesday night.

House members voted 97-0 for the measure, which contains recommendations of a task force which studied ways to avert a health care crisis caused by excessive malpractice lawsuits.

The vote came during a marathon session as the Legislature works to adjourn Friday.

The measure awaits the signature of Gov. Brad Henry, who appointed members to the task force.

Several Republicans voted for the group's recommendations, despite criticism that the bill did not go far enough.

Rep. Kevin Calvey, R-Del City, said it contained ``a few crumbs of tort reform'' but ``I'm going to vote for it because crumbs are better than nothing.''

Others said the people's voice had been shut out of deliberations on the bill because lawmakers were not involved.

Members of the medical and legal professions were named to the task force, but no legislators were included.

The state Senate on Friday voted 43-1 for the measure, called the Affordable Access to Health Care Act.

House Speaker Larry Adair, D-Stilwell, and Rep. Fred Perry, R-Tulsa, pointed to a provision to limit attorney fees in lawsuits driving up the cost of nursing home care.

Adair called it ``a good-faith effort to address a problem that people across the state tell us they want addressed.''

Rep. Jari Askins, D-Duncan, said the measure limits non-economic damages to $300,000 in cases involving emergency rooms and pregnancies, two areas she said generated 60 percent of lawsuits.

The measure also would reduce the amount of prejudgment interest allowed in medical and nursing home liability cases.

The award of attorneys fees to a plaintiff in nursing home liability lawsuits also would be eliminated under the bill.