It’s Time to Call Tort Reform What it Really Is
Standing Up Against Corporate Tyranny
Jacob Diesselhorst, Nix Law Group, PLLC, Edmond, Oklahoma
I love Oklahoma. I love the people of Oklahoma, all of them. The hard-working men and woman, the elderly-who have paved the way for us and the children-who we are grooming to carry on the legacy for our state’s future.
I love the idea of democracy and freedom. This great country of ours’ was founded based on principles…certain unalienable rights that are bestowed upon all of us– The principle that us all, whether white or black, rich or poor, republican or democrat, should be treated equally and be allowed to play on a level playing field. In turn, our political system, the 3 branches of government, should continue to exemplify this ideal and support our efforts to uphold it. Unfortunately, politics in Oklahoma has deteriorated into a power struggle for control of money and resources as opposed to an effort to embody the principles of freedom, equality and justice.
Like many of us, I am disgusted by the ugly politics and lack of civility that has invaded government. Party lines are now clearly drawn, as both sides teeter for control of a system that is now broken due to the power of special interests. Special interests have infested our politics to the point now there is no way to differentiate between two. Oklahoma politics are no different. Money talks.
The Chamber, big business, big insurance and big oil have a tight grip on this State and the brass of the current leadership of the Oklahoma Republican party. Don’t take my word for it? Let the evidence speak for itself. Look at the campaign finance reports for Oklahoma’s current GOP leadership, they read like a who’s who of Oklahoma’s business community, the super-rich and the PACS (Political Action Committees) formed by the special interests that now dictate Oklahoma politics.
Unfortunately, this influence of the money and power of big business and corporations has infected Republican leadership and convinced them to pursue policy changes that do nothing to protect or assist the general public, but act only to further enrich and empower the voracious and self-serving interests of Corporations and Insurance Companies. One disturbing example of special interests’ invasion into democracy is taking place in Oklahoma right now—with the efforts of a chosen few to force more so-called “tort reform” on the people of Oklahoma.
Tort Reform (as it is called) is the effort by the Big Business wing of the Republican party (at the direction of the corporations who fund their political campaigns and reelections) to invade the sanctity of the judicial branch and legislate in the court room by taking away the autonomy of the civil jury and dictating how juries must decide cases and what evidence is and is not allowed to come in to evidence at trial.
•Politicans want to place an arbitrary, one-size-fits all hard cap of $250k on the amount of damages a civil jury can award a catstrophically injured Oklahoman for the rest of his or her lifetime no matter how severe the injuries and no matter how disgusting, reckless and wanton the conduct of the negligent Defendant.
•GOP Idealogs claim hard caps “deter frivolous lawsuits.” This is a BLATANT LIE. Frivolous lawsuits never see the light of day in Oklahoma. Numerous laws already in place require Expert Reports before lawsuits can be filed. Moreover, Hard Caps do nothing to prevent minor injury lawsuits from being filed. What arbitratry hard caps do cause—is for people with legitimate, long term catstrophic injuries (a brain injured child or a blinded teenager or a badly burned stay-at-home mom or a nursing home resident who is beaten to death and raped in his nursing home by a bad employee) from obtaining full and fair compensation for their injuries.
•Non-economic damages are meant to serve as a deterence to Corporations and individual and ensure that our highways, schools, airports, public transportaion, workplaces, products, etc.) are SAFE. CAPS ELIMINATE THIS DETERENCE and actually give corporations, bad doctors, bad nurses, truck drivers, etc. a free license to run amuck in our state with no fear of every being punished above 250k. (which is like a parking ticket to many multi-million dollar businesses, corporations and insurance companies)
•Further, Policitians want to tip the scales of justice in favor of negligent defendants by giving a negligent tortfeasor’s insurance company and CREDIT for any collateral source of insurance an injured Oklahoman has in awarding damages.
•In other words, if you are horribly injured in a trucking accident and have $150k in medical bills–the jury gets to know your health insurance company paid part of the bills, that part was written off and that part came out of your pocket. Meanwhile, the fact that the negligent trucking company, hospital, oil and gas company etc. has millions of dollars in liability insurance will remain hidden from the jury.
•Even more disturbing, if you had the forsight to purcahse disability insurance or life insurance (in the case of a wrongful death case)–the negligent corporation’s liability insurance company will also get a credit for that insurance money (even though it is from another seperate insurance company). In other words, everyone benefits in this equation (the insurance companies and negligent defendants) EXCEPT THE ONE WHO SHOULD—THE CATASTROPHICALY INJURED OKLAHOMAN.
Our civil justice system is built on a principle of a balance of power and a weighing of the evidence to determine fault, liability and damages. The scales of justice illustrate this ideal. Our court system has successfully existed for hundreds of years built around the JURY. The Jury being a group of citizens like you and me who are entrusted to hear the evidence of a particular case and work together to render a fair and reasoned verdict. Now, however, politicians, not jurors, will decide the amount of damages to award in civil cases involving human injury and death by forcing upon a one-size fits all law that caps the maximum damages at $250,000.00 and decreases any economic damages awarded (medical bills, future medical bills, disability, loss of earnings, etc.) by the amounts of any collateral source of compensation that exists to pay part of them.
In other words, “tort reform” serves to cripple the very purpose of the jury system—to leave it to the people to decide the damages to render against a defendant who has been found to be negligent, reckless or wanton in its conduct and, as a result, caused harm to another person—by taking away the right of jurors (OKLAHOMA CITIZENS) to fairly decide legal disputes.
I for one stand with the people of Oklahoma and their constitutional right to a fair jury trial by the people…not politicians. With “tort reform”—Special Interests are completing the trifecta of infecting all 3 branches of government with their greed and self-serving influence. Meanwhile, the citizens of Oklahoma stand by, unknowlingly, while their rights are taken away by corrupt politicans whose only motivation is to satisfy their biggest campaign donors (i.e., BIG BUSINESS/BIG INSURANCE) so they can hope to get relected.
Sad but true.
Politics as usual in this State cannot be allowed to continue. The very rights to which each of us is entitled now hang in the balance.