The number of medical malpractice cases in Oklahoma has dropped dramatically in the last two years to its lowest point in more than a decade. Many attribute the steep decline in medical malpractice verdicts to 2009 tort reforms that eliminated the state’s system of joint-and-several liability as well as reduced the dollar amount of its non-economic damage cap from $400,000 to $350,000 and applied to all cases of medical negligence.
In addition to abolishing joint-and-several liability in medical malpractice cases and ratcheting down the dollar value of Missouri’s non-economic damage cap, the legislation gave judges greater latitude to dismiss medical malpractice lawsuits that lacked merit and required a certificate of merit prior to filing a medical malpractice claim. According to federal statistics, medical malpractice payments in Oklahoma have dropped 28 percent since the legislation was signed into law in 2009.
The 2009 tort reforms strengthened Oklahoma’s Affordable Access to Healthcare Act, which was signed into law in 2003. These potent reforms were enacted during the most recent medical malpractice insurance crisis, when medical malpractice rates were skyrocketing across the country and the number of companies offering malpractice coverage began to shrink.
Medical malpractice insurance premiums had jumped by 30 to 60 percent between 2002 and 2003. In response, a medical malpractice liability task force was formed with the expectation of finding solutions to the growing burden on Oklahoma’s healthcare community. The task force included members from the Oklahoma medical community, nursing home industry and legal profession.
The heart of the Affordable Access to Healthcare Act was its non-economic damage cap for obstetric cases as well as those that originated in the emergency room. The 2009 tort reforms created a cap in all cases of medical liability.
The non-economic damage cap has been an effective deterrent to the filing of medical malpractice cases because with recoverable damages limited, trial lawyers are much less willing to take on cases with low success potential.