A civil justice reform measure, one hailed in 2009 as the most comprehensive bill to ever affect Oklahoma’s legal system, has been declared unconstitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. In a 7-2 decision, the state’s highest court declared that the law, known as the Comprehensive Lawsuit Reform Act of 2009, violated the single-subject rule in the Oklahoma Constitution and amounted to unconstitutional logrolling, or the passing of legislation that contains multiple subjects. The court concluded that “The bill is unconstitutional and void in its entirety.” The 2009 law made sweeping changes to the way Oklahomans file lawsuits.
The law placed unconstitutional barriers to Oklahomans’ right to go to court and seek judicial remedies to injuries and other wrongful acts. Guy Fortney of Tulsa, president of the Oklahoma Association for Justice, said the decision will force the Legislature to adhere to constitutional guidelines when addressing issues like lawsuit reform. Guy had this to say:
It is certainly a victory in our view for the citizens of Oklahoma who have a right to access to not only the courtroom, but to a jury that can consider all the evidence before it, including the full amount of damages which would remedy the defendant’s wrong.
Fred Morgan, the president and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma, a pro-business group that supported the legislation, expressed his extreme disappointment. “Regrettably, the activist judges on this court have shown they will continue to anoint themselves the ultimate arbiter of the state’s social, moral and legal values,” the former state lawmaker, who has been active in lawsuit reform efforts, said in a statement.
A coalition of consumer advocacy groups and lawyers who specialize in medical malpractice and product liability cases initially fought the bill, arguing that it would block Oklahomans’ access to the state’s courts. In a separate 7-2 decision, the court also invalidated a requirement that injured people submit a certificate of merit before they can file professional malpractice lawsuits. The majority opinion said the requirement was “an unconstitutional burden on accessing the courts.”
Source: Insurance Journal
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