The Norman Transcript

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November 1, 2011

New bill leads to increase in civil case filings

NORMAN — The Cleveland County Courthouse has seen a dramatic increase in civil lawsuits compared to this time last year thanks to the new Oklahoma House Bill 2128.

HB 2128, starting today, places a cap at $350,000 for non-economic damages, or pain and suffering, that may be awarded to plaintiffs of civil lawsuits for claims of bodily injury.

Norman attorney, David Bernstein, said the increase of filings is due to attorneys filing before the deadline to ensure their client’s cases get processed without the pain and suffering cap laws.

Bernstein said other states with pain and suffering cap laws have eventually found the laws to be unconstitutional. He said cap laws are a disservice to plaintiffs in a civil negligence case.

“In Oklahoma, we have a constitutional right to trial by jury without limitations,” he said. “Many states that have looked at similar laws capping pain and suffering have found said limitation to be unconstitutional.

“Until the cap issue reaches the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which could take a few years, catastrophically injured Oklahomans may not obtain complete justice while some insurance companies that are making huge profits see their bottom line get even better.”

Before today, plaintiffs in a civil case had no limit to the amount of pain and suffering a jury could award.

Now, the bill only allows pain and suffering to exceed the $350,000 cap if the defendant was found to be grossly negligent, fraudulent, malicious or reckless.

The bill allows for no limit on economic damages, such as medical expenses and lost wages.

Because of this change in policy, there has been a large increase of civil lawsuits filed before today’s deadline in order to have cases processed without the pain and suffering cap.

In October 2010, Cleveland County reported 188 civil lawsuits. Compare that to October 2011 at 423. Oklahoma County also saw an increase of filings from 924 in October 2010 to 2,132 in October 2011.

Bernstein said he didn’t see this law as being beneficial to Oklahomans, and hopes the law will be overturned in the coming years.

“I will always continue to fight for my client’s right regardless of the laws,” he said. “The parts of the laws that may be unconstitutional — we will always fight to try and have those overturned.”

Hannah Cruz 366-3540 hcruz@normantranscript.com

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