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Oklahoma Tort Reform: Who Does it Really Protect?

The Oklahoma legislature recently passed a series of three new measures that will significantly affect personal injury claims for state citizens. Two Senate Bills and one House Bill have been signed into law to provide the most sweeping tort reform regulations in recent years. But while these changes are billed as good for the state, applying them in individual cases could severely hamper one's ability to be made whole again.

First, what on earth is a tort and does it come with a side of ice cream? A tort comes from the French word for "wrong." It refers to a civil wrongful act, either intentional or accidental, which results in an injury to another. A tort may very well constitute a crime as well. However, while a crime is pursued by the state against the wrongdoer, a tort claim is pursued by the injured party in order to recover compensation from damages due to his or her injury.

While the new reforms alter multiple areas of the existing law, these are some of the major changes (and potential problems) that are most likely to affect you:

· The biggest change, and the one you may have heard about, limits the amount of "non-economic" damages one may recover. Hospital bills, lost wages from missing work-these are referred to as "economic" damages. "Non-economic" damages include pain and suffering and lost wages both past and future. While both of these figures have traditionally been left up to the judgment of the jury, now a person, regardless of how horrible or painful their injuries are, may not recover more than $350,000, even if the insurance policy of the wrongdoer is well above this amount.

· Another change provides that the jury will be instructed that all awards are not taxable. This is intended to keep juries from overcompensating victims to cover what they thought would be taxed. The problem? The IRS decided years ago that "non-economic" damages are taxable. This will most likely unfortunately result in more time and money being spent to clear up an already decided issue. Whose time and money? Yours!

· Yet another portion of the reform measures eliminates a long-standing doctrine called "joint and several liability." Under the old rule, if more than one person was responsible for your injuries, you could recover 100% against each of them. This doctrine was based upon the idea that people should be responsible for their own actions. The new law abolishes this doctrine. Now, if more than one person causes your injuries, the jury must decide what percentage of the injuries each wrongdoer caused and they are only responsible for that portion.

As often seems to be the case, the legislature may have caused as many problems as it set out to resolve. Different cases will be affected in different ways by the nuances and exceptions to the new measures. If you have questions about an injury or about how the new laws may affect your claim, feel free to call us at 405-217-4118.

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