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Oklahoma Legislature

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For Immediate Release: May 11, 2009

House Speaker Chris Benge and Senate Pro Tem Glenn Coffee announce major Lawsuit Reform agreement.
House Speaker Chris Benge and Senate Pro Tem Glenn Coffee
announce major Lawsuit Reform agreement.

Senate Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, House Speaker Chris Benge and Rep. Dan Sullivan answer questions about lawsuit reform agreement at a Capitol press conference Monday.
Senate Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, House Speaker Chris Benge and Rep. Dan Sullivan
answer questions about the lawsuit reform agreement at a Capitol press conference Monday.


Extensive Talks Result in Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform for Oklahomans

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee and House Speaker Chris Benge are announcing an agreement between all parties involved in negotiations on a landmark comprehensive lawsuit reform package.

The Pro Tem and Speaker and their representatives have been in discussions with representatives of the Trial Bar and Mineral Owners for several weeks, and a framework of agreement has been reached on a wide array of issues. Final language will be drafted, and the legislation will go to the House for approval, then to the Senate.

The agreement is multi-faceted, including several key components of reform which will improve health care access to all Oklahomans, as well as assuring small business’ health and viability in the state.

“I’m very pleased with the agreement,” said Coffee. “Republicans have promised reform of the legal system, the people expect us to deliver, and we have in fact delivered.

“The spirit of cooperation exhibited by all parties in this negotiation was gratifying, and is indicative of what can be done when people negotiate in good faith toward a mutually beneficial goal,” Coffee continued. “We look forward to sending this historic reform to Governor Henry to ratify the hard work all the parties have accomplished for the state.”

“We have said since the beginning of session that lawsuit reform was one of our top priorities, and this agreement represents a huge victory for the people of Oklahoma today,” said House Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa

“All interested parties have worked together to make this deal a reality and I am proud of the collaboration that has occurred,” Benge continued. "This legislation will ensure access to the courts for all who have legitimate claims, but will also bring some certainty to a system that has recently become a hindrance to economic development in our state. I look forward to Gov. Henry signing this bill.”

“I am gratified that all parties were able to sit at the table and have frank discussions about our civil justice system,” said Representative Dan Sullivan lead House negotiator. “This agreement provides additional protections to the medical and business community from frivolous suits while protecting the right to a trial by a jury of their peers for those that are truly injured.”

“We are glad that we were able to keep an open and honest dialogue with Senator Coffee and House leadership as we worked to reach a compromise,” said Matt Latham, spokesman for Oklahoma Association for Justice. “Like all compromises, it is not perfect but of all the options presented to us, it goes the farthest to protect access to the courts for all Oklahomans, and that was our top concern. We hope that now that an agreement has been reached, that these measures will be given time to work.”

“Oklahoma’s oil and gas royalty owners thank Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee for his willingness to listen to their concerns about possible lawsuit reforms that would negatively impact their rights,” said Terry Stowers, director of the Coalition of Oklahoma Surface and Mineral Owners. “Our position has consistently been that we are not opposed to reasonable class action reforms that might improve the judicial system, so long as they did not effectively close the courthouse doors to the royalty owners. We thank Senator Coffee, Speaker Benge, Representative Sullivan and the negotiating team for finding acceptable class action reforms that truly improve the judicial system, while at the same time allow meritorious small claimants to have their day in court.”

Senator Coffee also thanked the Oklahoma State Chamber, the Oklahoma State Medical Association, the Physicians Alliance for Tort Reform, Oklahomans for Lawsuit Reform and the various other organizations for their support of the negotiations and the final product. “We are most grateful to these groups for their support of this reform, and we will surely give this reform sufficient time to bear fruit.”

2009 Oklahoma Lawsuit Reform Agreement

The major reforms agreed upon include the following:

Class action reforms as set out below:
• Adoption of an expanded federal rule (#2023) as a foundation for class actions in
• Specific procedures and guidelines set out the court must follow in appointing an
attorney to represent the class;
• Specific findings that must be included in an order certifying a class;
• More specific information that must be included in the notice provided to
potential class members if a class is certified;
• More specific court oversight of the case, particularly regarding dismissals and
• Limiting non-resident membership in state class actions;
• Allowing the court to stay, transfer or dismiss a case if it should be heard in
another court;
• Requiring the appellate court to immediately review certification orders using the
de novo standard;
• Allowing the appellate court to also review orders determining whether the class
has exhausted administrative procedures;
• Requiring the case to be stayed while an appeal of the certification order is
• Providing that settlements in which coupons are awarded, the attorney shall also
receive his fee in coupons; and,
• Providing specific guidelines the court must follow in awarding attorney fees to
the attorney representing the class, which includes allowing the court to appoint
an independent attorney to represent the class during the fee hearing.

Appeal Bond Cap - $25 million & no appeal bond required on punitive damage

Mandatory Dismissal for Late Service (180 days)

Summary Judgment – Adopted Federal Rules

Prejudgment Interest Reforms (Shall not begin to accrue until 24 months after
commencement of suit) and a reduction in the rate calculation

Joint & Several Liability
• Limits liability to instances where a tortfeasor is more than 50% at fault..

Asbestos/Silicosis Reforms

Cap on Non-Economic Damages
• In any action arising from a claimed bodily injury, the amount of compensation which a trier of fact may award a plaintiff for noneconomic loss shall not exceed $400,000.00.
• In any civil action arising from a claimed bodily injury, the amount of compensation which the trier of fact may award a plaintiff for economic loss shall not be subject to any limitation.

Properly pleading jurisdiction levels (More closely tied to Federal level)

Peer Review Confidentiality

Certificate of Merit for Professional Negligence

Other significant reforms include:

Forum non conveniens

Redefining of “Frivolous” Lawsuits

Junk Science & Expert Witness Reforms

Initial Disclosure of Witness Exhibits

Gun Manufacturers Liability Protection
• Exempts gun manufacturers, distributors and sellers who “lawfully” manufacture, distribute or sell firearms from liability for “any injury suffered.” Does not exempt such firearms from product liability if appropriate.

Common Sense Consumption Act
• Known as the “Cheeseburger Act,” this protects against obesity lawsuits against restaurants and food manufacturers.

Volunteer Liability

Emergency Volunteer Immunity

School Protection Act

Admissibility of non-wearing of Seat Belts (exempts children under 16)

Agri-Tourism Liability Reform

For more information contact:
Sen. Coffee's Office - 405-521-5636

Inon: Horizontal Blue Band

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