Articles Posted in Oklahoma

A settlement was reached this week in a class-action lawsuit involving claims that a dental insurance policy sold to Medicaid recipients living in nursing homes was in violation of Oklahoma law.

Under the $900,000 settlement agreement, the lawyer would get a third in attorneys’ fees and the named plaintiff would get $10,000. Everyone else – the 1,600 people that ostensibly got the raw deal – would get about $21 for each month they were in the Oklahoma Medicaid program and paid their premiums for dental insurance.

Lawyers make out pretty good in these consumer class action lawsuits. The actual victims usually don’t fare as well.

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

Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry signed into law a medical malpractice tort reform law in Oklahoma. Called the “Affordable Access to Health Care Act” (“Let’s Stop Victims from Getting Fair Compensation” was already taken), the law requires a certificate of merit by a medical expert before a nursing home or medical malpractice lawyer in Oklahoma can file a claim.

As I’ve written before, I’m fine with this new Oklahoma rule. I’m also okay—I guess—with the rule that attorney fees are no longer awarded to plaintiffs in nursing home liability lawsuits (although that rule seemed fair). My problem with this bill is that it puts a $300,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases involving birth injuries and emergency care. In other words, they are putting a cap on what are usually the most serious medical malpractice cases where the victims have suffered the most. Bad law, but it received large support in Oklahoma City.

Medical malpractice claims statistics from the Oklahoma Insurance Department are certainly not music to the ears of Oklahoma medical malpractice lawyers and their clients.

In 2006, 805 medical malpractice claims that resolved in Oklahoma. The malpractice cases were dismissed in 59, or almost 70%. Of the remaining medical malpractice case, 181 settled and 20 went to trial. The average claim settlement or award in 2006 was $257,887. The total amount paid in settlements and verdicts was just shy of $50 million.

oklahoma malpractice lawsuitsThe following are medical malpractice verdicts or settlements that took place in Oklahoma courts:

Oklahoma does not require nursing homes licensed in Oklahoma to carry insurance. Oklahoma State Senator Richard Lerblance submitted this session a bill requiring nursing homes to carry liability insurance. The Journal Record (OK) quotes an opponent as saying, “Would you rather take care of the patient or pay liability insurance? With low reimbursement rates, it’s almost impossible to do both.”
What a false choice. If you cannot make a profit and still pay for insurance, you should get out of the business because you are not running a profitable company.

How can it possibly make sense that auto insurance is mandatory but medical malpractice insurance and nursing home insurance is not mandatory?

Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals stuck down last week a statute designed to limit medical malpractice cases in Oklahoma. The 2003 medical malpractice statute at issue can only be described as Draconian, requiring anyone filing a medical malpractice lawsuit to serve a summons on the defendant within 180 days. The Oklahoma court reasoned that this statute is unconstitutional because the law treats medical negligence plaintiffs differently that plaintiffs in other personal injury cases.

This is a big win for Oklahoma medical malpractice lawyers and their clients.

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