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Lawsuit \"reform\" bill passes senate, goes to Governor



The Oklahoma State Senate passed Senate Bill 507 by a vote of 23-25. The 119-page would-be lawsuit "reform" legislation would place restrictions on average citizens filing lawsuits and require caps on non-economic (including punitive) damages.

The measure will go to Governor Brad Henry for signing or veto.

The vote went strictly down party lines, with Democrats voting against the legislation and Republicans voting for it"except for Susan Paddack, D-Ada. Paddack's husband is a doctor who serves on the board of the state's largest medical insurance company.

If a nursing home or hospital patient were injured, sickened or killed in the care of medical staff, the personnel at the facility would not have to report it, according to a state senator examining the bill.

Sen. Debbie Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, said the provision was buried in the depths of the 119-page Senate Bill 507, attached there by would-be tort "reformers" in the Oklahoma Legislature.

Leftwich called for the language to be removed.

"Under this language, if it is revealed in a 'quality assurance' meeting, or if a bad doctor was hired in a 'credentialing process,' the health care provider doesn't have to tell the truth about how the patient was injured or killed," said Leftwich. "If this bill and this language becomes law, the truth cannot be told in court even if a nurse or other employees want to testify about what happened."

Gov. Brad Henry issued a statement, saying the 119-page bill "is very lengthy and very complex, and I have not had an opportunity to review it in detail yet. I will spend the days to come studying the measure to determine if it is in the best interest of all Oklahomans."

"Equal access to the justice system is one of the most important and basic rights granted to our citizens under the U.S. Constitution and the Oklahoma Constitution," Henry said.  "It is critical that any reform measure preserve or strengthen that basic right as it attempts to reduce costs associated with the system." 

Senate Republicans have not issued a statement at this time; however, the Republican-led house issued a release several days ago pressuring Henry.

"The governor has been silent on the issue of lawsuit reform this year, but I'm confident he'll soon have an opportunity to sign this legislation into law," said Rep. Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher, House Majority Whip.

An Oklahoma Gazette series examined tenets of the bill, showing that one of the would-be tort reformers, Sen. Susan Paddack, has a husband who is a doctor on the board of Oklahoma's largest medical insurer.

A second piece showed how the defendant, HCA Health Services of Oklahoma Inc. lost an $18 million lawsuit in the case of a baby whose skull was fractured. Records showed the hospital was cited by the court for refusing to turn over records regarding the child's injury.

The University of Oklahoma denied normally released police records to the Gazette during research for the article, when university attorneys learned it regarded a criminal investigation at an OU hospital. "Ben Fenwick 

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