According to NewsOK.com, a committee of the Oklahoma House passed a bill requiring every civil lawsuit for professional negligence must have an affidavit attached to the suit, stating that the filer has obtained the opinion of a qualified expert, who has reviewed the facts of the case.
There are several problems with this law. One, it places a monetary barrier to suit on the person who was wronged. If the expert in your field, like one example stated in the story, charges $12,000 for a consultation, you cannot go forward with your suit unless you can afford this fee. Basically, the doors to the courthouse are barred to anyone who cannot pay for justice. This is fine for corporations, who can always afford an expert, but not constitutional when it prevents everyday citizens from pursuing justice.
Another problem with this law is that when there is a well respected or powerful person who commits negligence in their field, it may be impossible to find an expert to speak out against the person. That is even if there is clear cut negligence. This can deny justice to an injured party, just because there is no one who has the fortitude to speak out for the little guy. Is that what justice is all about? Our founding fathers would disagree.
In a lot of cases, the negligence is so clear cut, that it isn’t even necessary to hire an expert to prove your case. But this law would add an extra, and unnecessary, layer of expense, to an already costly judicial system. The decision to hire an expert to prove your case is the attorney’s decision, as well as the client’s decision.
When tort reformers go about passing laws like this, their stated goals are never the real reason for their actions. The reformers will tell you this bill is intended to keep merit-less lawsuits out of the system. But there is already a remedy for that, summary judgment. The goal of this “lawsuit reform” is to prevent the little guy from obtaining justice. Isn’t that always the case.
The head of the Oklahoma Democratic party, Ivan Holmes put it this way, “”It is going to come down to: Who do you want to protect, big insurance companies or the little guy?”. I agree. The party is planning to raise funds to mount an ad campaign to combat tort reform in their state.
Besides the measure mentioned above, the Legislature is planning to bring other tort reform legislation, including a bill requiring a cap on contingency fees for lawyers in personal injury cases. This is another access to justice issue. If regular citizens are required to pay lawyers hourly rates, a lot of citizens will be denied access to the courthouse. Again, the victim will be the little guy, not the corporation who can afford a lawyer’s hourly rate.