Oklahoma conservative establishment leaders pushing for so called “lawsuit reform” are anything but conservative. Today I witnessed the Republican establishment rush through a lawsuit immunity bill that will have a devastating effect on all Oklahomans.
The inaptly named tort reform bills I’m about to discuss were authored by Oklahoma State Senator Anthony Sykes. Senator Sykes is a lawyer who should know better but his actions today in presenting these bills while refusing to answer questions on them as judicial committee chair proves that he has completely neglected average Oklahomans in favor of big insurance and their special interest monies.
Now before you rush and say that I’m being an overdramatic trial lawyer, it is a fact that Senator Sykes wants to give insurance companies and big business complete immunity where an injured person has paid premiums and purchased life insurance, disability insurance, medical insurance et al. What exactly am I saying? Let’s examine Senator Sykes’ Senate Bill 864 which barely passed out of committee given some Republican dissension on this bill.
Senator Sykes Senate Bill 864 states
“For the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, if the plaintiff receives compensation or is to receive compensation in the future for the injuries or harm that gave rise to the cause of action from a source wholly independent of the defendant, such fact shall be admitted into evidence and the amount shall be deducted from the amount of damages that the plaintiff recovers from the defendant.”
Ladies and gentleman, looking at this law the word “wholly independent” will mean things such as life insurance, disability insurance and medical payments made by your insurance. For example, if your spouse is killed due to the negligence of a semi truck driver on drugs and your spouse was prudent to have paid premiums for 10 years on a $1,000,000.00 life insurance policy, the semi truck company will not have to pay a dime until such verdict is over $1,000,000.00. In other words, big business and big insurance will get to benefit up to $1,000,000.00 because your spouse was prudent to purchase and pay premiums for life insurance.
To understand the lunacy and flawed thinking behind this bill, Republican Senator Josh Brecheen from Durant Oklahoma complimented Senator Sykes saying that this bill will save Oklahoma businesses and insurance companies monies because they wouldn’t have to pay when they were negligent. In debate, he said the whole goal of the system was to make injured people whole and if someone was smart enough to purchase things such as life insurance they would be made whole and Defendants didn’t need to pay a dime. Honestly, I have to question Senator Sykes and Senator Brecheen’s sense of right and wrong. In essence, they are willing to give a semi driver on drugs, a doctor operating while on drugs or any other tortfeasor (one who is negligent) a free pass if someone has been prudent to buy insurance. Their sense of fairness does not even allow for the recovery of premiums paid. Without continually using this as Republican bashing (I’m a conservative), Senator Crain and Senator Shortey passionately stated that they just did not see the fairness in this. In fact, Senator Crain asked why we wanted to punish people who carrying insurance.
While there were several other draconian type bills presented, I wanted to touch on Senator Sykes desire to limit noneconomic damages to $250,000.00 in his Senate Bill 863. When asked where this number came from and why $400,000.00 wasn’t sufficient Senator Sykes balked and said this is what other states are doing. Senator Sykes statement reminds me of my parents popular advice of “if another kid jumps off a building should you?.” Senator Sykes nor any judicial committee member could justify these caps. There are no exceptions in place for those who may be horribly scarred, who can’t have children and/or who are paralyzed. This bill is simply to enrich insurance companies whose insureds hurt someone.
Truth be told no one could find a rational basis for these bills. It wasn’t even announced to the committee or public that these bills would be heard today until yesterday. Obviously, the committee members were not given time to adequately read and/or debate the bills. Why was it done this way? It’s quite simple. There is no way to logically support these bills and the Oklahoma Republican establishment knows that any public debate will lead to an outcry by constitutional conservatives. Therefore, the only way to pass such draconian measures is to do it in the dead of the night.
As a side note, Senator Sykes and Senator Johnson were not even going to let one of Senator Sykes’ constituents speak as to the effect of these laws (historically people have been allowed to speak in these committees). Only at the insistence and votes of all Democrats on the committee and Senator Shortey and Senator Crain was Senator Sykes’ constituent allowed to address him.
This is simply a sad day for Oklahoma and the only way to stop these unconservative bills from passing is for each and everyone to call these senators and say “no more lawsuit immun