Diminishing returns?

The latest tort-reform package in Oklahoma kicks in on the first of November, prompting this little contretemps:

As The Oklahoman reports, Oklahoma City-based law firm Merritt & Associates recently circulated an e-mail to other law firms in the state, warning: “Danger! Tort reform legislation effective November 1. File your lawsuits now!” A rush on filings is expected, at least in advance of the legislation’s effective date.

Not that Merritt is trying to drum up business or anything:

John Merritt, the lawyer who sent the e-mail, clarified that he does not support lawsuits that make false allegations and lack merit. But he says he opposes the changes to existing law, which redefine what constitutes a frivolous lawsuit and make it easier for judges to dismiss them. The new law also changes guidelines for class action lawsuits and joint and several liability rules.

If you’ve been here as long as I have, you might reasonably wonder: “Didn’t we go through this already?” The answer is yes, we have:

While numerous measures of so called ‘tort reform’ passed the Oklahoma legislature prior to 2003, advocates of ‘tort reform’ continue to press for more. The study finds that there was a 17.5% decrease in the number of tort cases (claiming over $10,000) filed, from 6,764 such cases in 2003 to 5,576 cases in 2007. During the same time period, the number of all civil cases over $10,000 filed increase 4%. The data suggest that the measures passed before 2003 negatively affected tort case filings, and that future measures may be unwarranted.

[Hatamyar, Patricia W., The Effect of ‘Tort Reform’ on Tort Case Filings (May 1, 2009). Valparaiso University Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 2, 2009. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1429609]

The new legislation, signed by Governor Henry in May, caps noneconomic damages at $400,000 except in cases of gross negligence or permanent disfigurement. The Hatamyar study can’t address the results of this particular measure, since it’s not in effect yet. I have to wonder, though, at what point the number of tort cases becomes “too many.”

(With thanks to Walter Olson.)


  1. Charles Pergiel »

    20 September 2009 · 11:25 pm

    Okay, now I’m confused. I know there is criminal law, and I know about civil law, but what the heck is a tort case if it isn’t a civil case?

  2. CGHill »

    21 September 2009 · 7:12 am

    It’s a specialized sort of civil case, one in which no contractual law is involved. If Lumpy’s Garage fails to fix your Dodge as promised, that’s not a tort; if Lumpy backs over your foot to get the car out of the shop, that’s a tort. (Extremely oversimplified, yes.)

  3. Hurry, get those lawsuits filed before reform »

    24 September 2009 · 4:44 pm

    […] have been here before, notes Dustbury […]

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