The Oklahoma Senate Judiciary Committee recently passed five bills to “protect Oklahomans, our doctors and our businesses from frivolous lawsuits.” Oh, if only it were true. But it’s not.
None of the five bills, Senate Bills 862-866, addresses or even mentions “frivolous” claims. Instead, the five are directed at legitimate claims — claims an injured plaintiff wins. A lawsuit an injured Oklahoman wins is, by any definition, not frivolous. Instead of regulating frivolous claims, each of the bills simply reduces the accountability of one who has caused or inflicted harm.
The bills provide protection for wrongdoers who cause injuries to innocent victims. They protect drunken drivers and companies that make defective products, for example. They make wrongdoers less accountable for their conduct. Why should Oklahoma favor a wrongdoer over an innocent victim?
Let’s say a defective Toyota causes an accident resulting in brain damage to a 16-year-old girl. As a result of her injuries, she can no longer play sports or take care of herself, but she is aware of what her life was like before she was injured. SB 863 would limit to $250,000 the amount this young lady could recover for the loss of her ability to enjoy her life. The artificial limit doesn’t discourage filing frivolous lawsuits; it simply protects Toyota.
If our young victim’s family was lucky enough to have health insurance that cover her catastrophic medical bills, then Toyota wouldn’t have to pay them. SB 864 would allow Toyota to reduce its responsibility by the amount of a benefit provided by the victim’s family. Reducing the amount Toyota has to pay doesn’t discourage frivolous lawsuits; it just protects Toyota.
Maybe Toyota is able to put half of the blame on the driver of its defective car. SB 862 would require the automaker to pay only half of the damages the jury awards. If that driver can’t pay her half of the damages, the loss gets shifted to our innocent victim, instead of to Toyota, one of the wrongdoers. Limiting Toyota’s responsibility doesn’t discourage filing frivolous lawsuits; it simply protects Toyota.
Why would Oklahoma pass laws that would protect Toyota instead of protecting one of our own? Toyota doesn’t manufacture cars here, and these five bills don’t give it incentive to start. The bills will not attract jobs or spur our economy. They will not fund education or raise our graduation rates. They will not fix our roads or prisons. They will not protect any Oklahoma children from abuse or neglect.
The bills approved by the judiciary committee will change the way Oklahoma has held people accountable for their actions since statehood. Who should be accountable, the wrongdoer or the victim? We should all ask our elected officials: Why should Oklahoma protect Toyota?