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Counterpoint: ‘Fear stifles innovation’

Oklahoma needs a fair and quick legal system

Fred Morgan March 16th, 2011

“We need lawsuit reform now!” I am confident that is a statement you have heard for years, from doctors, politicians and the business community. But what is often left unsaid is how lawsuit reform (or the lack thereof) would impact each and every Oklahoman.

Reforms to our legal system are needed to help create a consistent and fair business environment for Oklahoma. And, contrary to the self-serving statements from the trial lawyers, Oklahomans with legitimate cases will not be denied his or her day in court as a result of these reforms. Some facts on medical lawsuits alone:

—Too many frivolous lawsuits are filed over issues that should not be going to court.

—Increasingly, medical students are choosing more lucrative specialties and not becoming primary care physicians. Coupled with a growing number of retiring primary care physicians and an increase in demand for health care services as the baby boomer generation nears retirement, a primary care doctor shortage threatens care in Oklahoma, both in the near and long term.

—Defensive medicine is driving up the cost of health care. A 2006 survey by the Alliance for Oklahoma Physicians for Tort Reform showed that 87 percent of physicians admitted to practicing “defensive medicine” by requiring further tests or frequent visits to avoid the risk of litigation.

Insurance costs paid by state companies continue to rise.

—The high cost of malpractice insurance is forcing doctors to close their practices, especially in high-risk specialties (like OB-GYNs) in rural areas. This severely limits health care access is rural Oklahoma.

Oklahoma needs a legal system where all parties receive a fair trial when needed and disputes are settled quickly; where the injured are fairly compensated for damages suffered; and where defendants are responsible in proportion to their actual fault.

Businesses are currently forced to operate under a constant threat of being sued. This fear stifles innovation in the workplace, which would help create new jobs. Many lawyers file lawsuits not to win their case in court, but to make money on settlements with businesses and insurance companies who can’t afford the battle of a frivolous case.

Similar problems exist in manufacturing, small business and the service sector, where the cost of protective measures and defensive strategies against unfounded litigation is imbedded in every product, resulting in higher costs for consumers.

Consequently, Oklahoma jobs are at stake. Insurance costs paid by state companies — business liability and employee health insurance — continue to rise. In today’s economy, employers face tough choices to survive. When the cost of doing business rises, business owners cannot hire new employees.

This is a problem, and returning common sense to our courts, and personal responsibility to our society will help alleviate the strain on businesses. We cannot let rhetoric get in the way of much-needed legal reforms that will help drive economic development in our state for years to come. Adoption of comprehensive lawsuit reform will send a signal to the country that Oklahoma is, in fact, open for business.

Morgan is president and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma.

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03.18.2011 at 12:37 Reply

Fred Morgan simply does not tell the truth!  When asked for proof frivilous lawsuits are being filed he and his chamber cronies cannot show proof.  Further, the physician shortage allegation is an outright lie.  Oklahoma has increased in physicians and ranks 5th per capita in the number of physicians per the AMA.  Next, insurance costs for phsyicians have gone down when PLICO (the main insurer for the doctors in the state and owned by doctors) reorganized with the help of tax payers to a better business model making better decisions.  Next, the laws Fred proposes only address a situation when a plaintiff has already won a lawsuit and acts to diminish the amount a jury can award?  How does this backend undoing of the 7th Amendment and a juries' decision stop frivilous suits?  It doesn't but at the same time that is not their goal just a cute word to get your intention.  As to defensive medicine, do you really not want a doctor running a test on your child to confirm a diagnosis or do you want to simply rely on his subjective opinion.  Also, most medical errors go unreported.  Remember, this is really not about the medical profession but about ALlstate, State Farm, Farm Bureau et al.  Lastly, if a cap for injuring a person where a jury has already found the Defendant at fault is the basis for bringing a company to Oklahoma it stands to reason that company wants immunity because it plans on cutting corners and cheating.  Shame on Fred.   Truth is his desire is corporate welfare on the backs of taxpayers.