Oklahoma’s average malpractice award payment is $230,787. The national average is $285,218. Other personal injury cases in Oklahoma are more reasonable. So what is the problem with malpractice cases?
There is no problem. There WAS a problem. Oklahoma Statutes Section 23-61.2 limits non-economic damages to an extremely harsh cap of $350,000. The Oklahoma Supreme Court wisely overturned this law. But cap – the expectation of it passing – and the uncertainty surrounding it has a chilling impact.
Malpractice Settlements and Verdicts in Oklahoma
2022, Oklahoma: $17,500,000 Verdict. The plaintiff underwent hernia mesh excision surgery. During the surgery, the doctor inadvertently cut into his right femoral nerve and failed to realize it. The plaintiff suffered femoral nerve damage to his right leg, resulting in permanent impairment with significant pain and a complete loss of sensory and motor function of the leg.
2021 Oklahoma: $7,688,363 Verdict. The plaintiff alleged that the defendants negligently failed to timely diagnose her cervical cancer because they incorrectly interpreted the results of her pap smear test as negative when they were in fact positive for cancer. As a result of the delayed diagnosis, the plaintiff had to undergo a radical hysterectomy and a decreased chance of survival.
2019, Oklahoma: $7,500,000 Settlement. An expectant mother and father arrived at a hospital for the induction of labor because of her low amniotic fluid levels. Over two days later, their son was born with severe metabolic acidosis. They alleged that excessive uterine activity that compromised his blood and oxygen supply caused this. Their now 2-year-old son ultimately suffered hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. He is also nonverbal, microcephalic, and experienced developmental delays. The parents allege that staff breached the standard of care by failing to regulate Pitocin administration, institute resuscitation measures in utero, timely notify the physician of the dropping fetal heart rate, and perform an emergency C-section delivery. This case settled for $7,500,000.
2018, Oklahoma: $700,000 Verdict. A mother arrived at the hospital in labor. When labor failed to progress, the staff responded by administering Pitocin. It resumed, but the OB/GYN then encountered shoulder dystocia. They continued with a vaginal birth, despite fetal macrosomia and shoulder dystocia. Their mismanagement resulted in the baby girl’s left brachial plexus injury. Her parents sued the physicians group, the treating OB/GYN, and the hospital for failing to warn of the risks of delivering a macrosomic baby and failing to offer a C-section. They also alleged that the staff improperly administered Pitocin. The hospital and OB/GYN denied negligence and argued that they provided the mother and daughter proper care. Before trial, the parents settled with physicians’ group for $20,000. The parents then went to trial against the OB/GYN and hospital. An Oklahoma County jury awarded them $700,000.
2018, Oklahoma: $3,750,000 Verdict. An elderly woman underwent a right total knee replacement. She was transferred to a rehabilitation facility following the procedure. During her stay, she fell and suffered facial trauma, subdural hematoma, and a fractured hip. She died from her injuries a week later. Her estate alleged that the facility failed to prevent falls, failed to provide appropriate care, and failed to provide proper supervision. The facility denied all negligence and also claimed that she died from a spontaneous subarachnoid hemorrhage unrelated to her care. An Oklahoma County jury ruled in favor of her estate, awarding $3,750,000.
2017, Oklahoma: $35,000 Settlement. A nursing home resident’s dentures were caught in his throat. They remained there for three days while the staff failed to notice this issue or look for the dentures. He suffered unspecified injuries. The man died of unrelated causes before the case settled. His estate sued the facility, alleging that they failed to monitor the man’s dentures, disregarded his safety, and violated the Oklahoma Nursing Home Act. The case settled for $35,000.
2013, Oklahoma: $2,500,000 Verdict. A 50-year-old woman underwent gastric bypass surgery. Following the procedure, she suffered decreased blood pressure, an elevated heart rate, kidney failure, loss of consciousness, and decreased blood counts. Despite these complications potentially indicating internal bleeding, the surgeon failed to order tests that would have determined their cause. The morning after the surgery, the woman went into arrest, and staff resuscitated her. Hours later, the surgeon performed exploratory surgery but did not find the significant bleeding in the woman’s bowel. She continued to bleed and died the next day. Her estate alleged that the surgeon failed to properly address the woman’s internal bleeding. The surgeon denied negligence, claiming that the woman suffered a known and accepted risk of gastric bypass surgery. Her estate was awarded $2,500,000 in damages.
2012, Oklahoma: $4,375 Verdict. Plaintiff underwent a bilateral breast reduction performed by Defendant plastic surgeon. Plaintiff alleges that after the procedure, she experienced sores that oozed at several incision sites. At the time, the Defendant assured her she was healing properly and that the incisions looked fine. A year and a half later, Plaintiff returned to the Defendant complaining of a foul odor coming from the incision sites. Defendant determined that she likely retained a stitch from the surgery that had not dissolved. She performed an in-office procedure to remove the object, a procedure that the Plaintiff claimed was very painful and that she had not been properly informed of the procedure or she would not have consented to it. After continuing to experience problems with her incisions, Plaintiff consulted another plastic surgeon. He determined she had not suffered an abscess, and diagnosed her with hidradenitis suppurativa (a chronic skin condition that features pea-sized to marble-sized lumps under the skin), requiring surgical excision and skin grafting. Plaintiff filed suit as a result of the two-year delay in proper treatment and the permanent, painful, and disfiguring scarring. The jury awarded the Plaintiff $4,375.
Oklahoma Malpractice Law
Oklahoma Malpractice Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases in Oklahoma is generally two years from the date of the injury or the date that the injury was discovered, or should have been discovered, through reasonable diligence. If a child suffers an injury due to another party’s negligence, their parents can initiate a personal injury lawsuit on their behalf within seven years from the injury date, as long as the child was under 12 years old when the injury took place. If the child was 12 or older when injured, the parents have the standard two-year window from the injury date to file a lawsuit. However, if the child wishes to seek compensation independently after becoming a legal adult and their parents have not previously filed a lawsuit, they have one year after turning 18 to initiate the legal process.
Oklahoma Statute of Limitations for Wrongful Death Claims
Under 12 Okla. Stat. § 1053, l, the deceased person’s personal representative can pursue a legal action against the responsible party or their personal representative if they are also deceased. If the deceased person could have filed a lawsuit for the injury resulting from the same action or neglect had they survived, the personal representative can initiate the action on their behalf. The lawsuit must be filed within two (2) years.
Oklahoma Discovery Rule
Under the Oklahoma discovery rule, the statute of limitations for medical malpractice cases may be extended if the patient did not discover the injury immediately or if the injury was not apparent at the time of the malpractice. In such cases, the statute of limitations may be extended to two years from the date that the injury was discovered, or should have been discovered, through reasonable diligence.
Oklahoma Malpractice Statute of Repose
In Oklahoma, there is a statute of repose that limits the time period during which a medical malpractice claim can be brought. The statute of repose in Oklahoma is two years from the date of the negligent act or omission, regardless of when the injury was discovered or should have been discovered.
Oklahoma Collateral Source Rule
Under the Oklahoma collateral source rule, a patient may recover damages for medical expenses even if those expenses were paid for by a third party, such as an insurance company. The defendant cannot reduce the damages by the amount of the third-party payments.
Expert Required in Malpractice Lawsuit
In Oklahoma, a medical malpractice lawsuit must be supported by expert testimony. The expert must be a healthcare professional with knowledge and experience in the same field as the defendant.
Oklahoma Informed Consent Law
The Oklahoma informed consent law requires physicians to obtain a patient’s informed consent before a procedure. The law emphasizes a patient’s right to self-determination and the necessity for physicians to disclose enough information for patients to make intelligent and informed choices.
A physician’s communication obligation will be measured by the patient’s need to know and must include all material risks incident to treatment. The scope of the duty to inform is broad enough to include a physician’s duty to inform the patient of who will be performing significant portions of the procedure or surgical tasks.