According to The Tulsa World, the sheer number of medical malpractice judgments handed down in Oklahoma has hit a 10-year low. The number fell by 28 percent, from 159 payouts in 2009 to 114 payments in 2011.
One major factor in this reduction of judgments is a compromise tort-reform law signed in 2009 by Gov. Brad Henry. The law provides a mechanism through which judges can easily dismiss no-merit lawsuits before they ever go to trial. Other restrictions provided by the law include:
- A limit on the plaintiff’s ability to recover from a defendant with “deep pockets” who is only partially responsible for the injury
- A requirement that injured plaintiffs produce a certificate of merit before they are permitted to file a malpractice suit
- A cap on damages that can be recovered for pain and suffering
As a result of this and other acts of tort reform by the Oklahoma Legislature, attorneys are now less willing to take on medical malpractice cases due to the heightened expenses involved and lower potential awards. Accordingly, tort reform opponent Rep. Richard Morrissette believes, “Innocent people are being hurt by a law that was put in to help insurance companies using doctors as the bait and lawyers as the scapegoats.”
Others applaud the changes. According to Secretary of State Glenn Coffee, “It appears to me lawsuit reform is already delivering what it promised . . . I believe these positive signs will grow with time. This news will certainly help Oklahoma retain and recruit physicians.”
The other big reason it’s so hard to recover in a medical malpractice case? It’s expensive for the plaintiff (and their attorney) to bring a medical malpractice case to trial. With doctor/witness depositions, expert opinions, and other expenses, the cost can quickly be over $50,000 (and that’s without attorney fees).