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Point: Pro-business stance is ‘shortsighted’


The desired end doesn’t justify the means here.

Chris Smith March 16th, 2011

In May 2009, Sen. Glenn Coffee and fellow legislators announced the passing of a comprehensive lawsuit reform package. Everyone lauded its passage. Why then are Republicans back again with more legislation on the same issue?

Senate Bill 863 would impose an upper limit of $250,000 on certain types of damages, and SB 864 would abolish the collateral source rule, thereby allowing a negligent defendant a credit for life, health or disability insurance paid for by the injured victim or their survivors. Sen. Anthony Sykes of Moore authored both bills.

The hard cap for certain damages is the holy grail for tort reformers, but it’s also the most discriminatory in that women, children and elderly victims would be statutorily devalued, should SB 863 pass. The cap would take the valuation of an injury out of the hands of a jury of your peers. Why are Republicans penalizing individuals and businesses that plan for the worst by paying their insurance premiums? Shouldn’t we all be encouraged to purchase insurance as opposed to penalized for it, as SB 864 does?

As a Republican, it is impossible to sit by and watch this absurdity take place. I understand that businesses, doctors and insurance companies want to limit their liability exposure. I do, too. However, the desired end doesn’t justify the means here, and Republican advocates in the Legislature are being intellectually dishonest and inconsistent with conservative principles of protecting the Constitution, promoting individual responsibility and ensuring that each of us is provided equal footing under the law, and in a courtroom.

The basis given for this legislation by its proponents is to improve the business environment of the state. Everyone wants a business-friendly Oklahoma; however, advocates of this legislation are being too shortsighted in their “pro-business” stance.

Is tort reform the only chamber of commerce issue that will attract new businesses? If so, didn’t the 2009 legislation have the desired effect? Why aren’t legislative leaders knocking down barriers to the courthouse and cutting through unnecessary regulation of business and industry, and thus rewarding good businesses of all kinds and sizes — not just those bad actors that find themselves in court?

The lawsuit reform proposed is simply bad policy.

Deregulation of industry is a hallmark of the modern Republican Party. It allows the free market to improve society and increases production and quality by allowing the best and most innovative of businesses to succeed without being hindered by government oversight and control.

However, the dichotomy of the argument is that to truly deregulate industry from government control and oversight, without creating societal chaos, it is imperative that the judiciary be allowed to serve as society’s backstop to rogue and dangerous practices. These bills would essentially end those protections.

The lawsuit reform legislation proposed by Republican leaders this session is simply bad policy. It represents the continued erosion of individual rights and protections by Republicans and tells me and all who are watching exactly who their friends are. But then again, you get what you pay for.

Smith is an attorney living in Oklahoma City.

 
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