The Oklahoma Supreme Court has invalidated a state law that limited damages for pain and suffering in personal injury lawsuits to $350,000. The court ruled that the 2011 civil justice statute implementing the damages cap was an unconstitutional “special law” that treats people who survive injuries differently than those who don’t; Oklahoma’s constitution forbids caps on damages in death cases.
“By forbidding limits on recovery for injuries resulting in death, the people have left it to juries to determine the amount of compensation for pain and suffering in such cases, and no good reason exists for the Legislature to provide a different rule for the same detriment simply because the victim survives the harm-causing event,” the court’s opinion concluded.
As reported by the Virgnia Pilot, the decision centered on a lawsuit filed on behalf of an oilfield services worker whose left arm was amputated due to a workplace accident. An Oklahoma County jury awarded the man $6 million for pain and suffering, but that award was later reduced to $700,000 by the legislative damages cap ($350,000 each for the worker and his spouse).
The cap, which was adopted by the Legislature and signed into law by former Gov. Mary Fallin in 2011, is the latest in a series of civil justice “reform” attempts from the state legislature’s conservative majority that have been struck down by the courts as improper or illegal.