Tort reform bill called bad for little guy

Tuesday, March 8th 2005, 5:55 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Two women who won large judgments after the deaths of their children chided lawmakers Monday for considering a bill that would place a $300,000 cap on punitive damages in lawsuits.

Assessment of punitive damages ``is the only way we can get justice,'' said Nancy Medlin, who said her 3-year-old son died because of ``an unbelievable neglectful act'' by an anesthesiologist.

Medlin and B.J. Kincade were among the members of Oklahomans for Responsible Justice, a consumer group, who were at the Capitol lobbying against a Republican-sponsored lawsuit reform measure.

``The tort reform issue is really quite simple,'' said Kincade. ``Giant corporations and wealthy insurance executives win, working Oklahomans lose.''

She said a vote for the bill authored by House Speaker Todd Hiett, R-Kellyville, is ``a vote for protecting powerful interests from being held accountable for wrongdoing.''

Kincade's 29-year-old son, Jimmy, was killed in 1989 when the ``sidesaddle'' gasoline tank on his Chevrolet truck exploded after a crash. He left a wife, daughter and two stepchildren.

His mother was a leader in a national movement that led to General Motors agreeing to spend $51 million on auto safety programs in a 1994 deal with the government that ended a federal investigation of alleged defects in GM's 1973-87 C-K model pickups.

Critics said the trucks were a fire hazard in side-impact crashes because their fuel tanks were mounted outside the protection of the frame.

Kincade, whose family settled a lawsuit against GM for an undisclosed sum, said Monday lawmakers who vote for the Hiett bill ``are voting to waive our Seventh Amendment right to a trial by jury. I'm not willing to sign over my right and I'm not sure anyone else would either.''

Medlin said her son underwent a dental procedure when he was three that involved receiving an IV. She said solution was pumped into her son at too high a rate and her protests that something was wrong were ignored.

``They drowned my son from the inside out over a three-hour period,'' she said.

Medlin said the family took a financial loss because she was unable to work for three years after the ordeal and her husband, who had just started a home business, had to take care of her.

She said the family eventually received about $500,000 of an $850,000 judgment, with the rest going to attorneys and expenses.

A $300,000 cap on damages will discourage attorneys from taking many cases that are expensive and take years to bring to trial or a settlement, Medlin said.

She said medical lawsuits have been dropping in Oklahoma and it is ``totally erroneous'' that legal action is causing insurance rates to skyrocket.

``This is a myth that the insurance companies have perpetuated and have convinced doctors it is true,'' she said.

She also suggested that if caps are placed on attorney fees, then limits should be placed on doctors' income.