In its opinion filed on April 23, 2019, the Supreme Court of the State of Oklahoma (“Oklahoma Supreme Court”) held “the cap on actual noneconomic damages–is wrought with an irremediable constitutional infirmity: It is a special law categorically prohibited by Article 5, Section 46 of the Oklahoma Constitution. We hold that 23 O.S. Section 61.2(B)-(F) is unconstitutional in its entirety.”
23 O.S. Section 61.2(B)-(F)
23 O.S. Section 61.2(B)-(F) states:
B. Except as provided in subsection C of this section, in any civil action arising from a claimed bodily injury, the amount of compensation which a trier of fact may award a plaintiff for noneconomic loss shall not exceed Three Hundred Fifty Thousand Dollars ($350,000.00), regardless of the number of parties against whom the action is brought or the number of actions brought.
C. Notwithstanding subsection B of this section, there shall be no limit on the amount of noneconomic damages which the trier of fact may award the plaintiff in a civil action arising from a claimed bodily injury resulting from negligence if the judge and jury finds, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant’s acts or failures to act were:
1. In reckless disregard for the rights of others;
2. Grossly negligent;
3. Fraudulent; or
4. Intentional or with malice.
D. In the trial of a civil action arising from claimed bodily injury, if the verdict is for the plaintiff, the court, in a nonjury trial, shall make findings of fact, and the jury, in a trial by jury, shall return a general verdict accompanied by answers to interrogatories, which shall specify all of the following:
1. The total compensatory damages recoverable by the plaintiff;
2. That portion of the total compensatory damages representing the plaintiff’s economic loss;
3. That portion of the total compensatory damages representing the plaintiff’s noneconomic loss; and
4. If alleged, whether the conduct of the defendant was or amounted to:
a. reckless disregard for the rights of others,
b. gross negligence,
c. fraud, or
d. intentional or malicious conduct.
E. In any civil action to recover damages arising from claimed bodily injury, after the trier of fact makes the findings required by subsection D of this section, the court shall enter judgment in favor of the plaintiff for economic damages in the amount determined pursuant to paragraph 2 of subsection D of this section, and subject to paragraph 4 of subsection D of this section, the court shall enter a judgment in favor of the plaintiff for noneconomic damages. Except as provided in subsection C of this section, in no event shall a judgment for noneconomic damages exceed the maximum recoverable amounts set forth in subsection B of this section. Subsection B of this section shall be applied in a jury trial only after the trier of fact has made its factual findings and determinations as to the amount of the plaintiff’s damages.
F. In any civil action arising from claimed bodily injury which is tried to a jury, the jury shall not be instructed with respect to the limit on noneconomic damages set forth in subsection B of this section, nor shall counsel for any party nor any witness inform the jury or potential jurors of such limitations.
Article 5, Section 46 of the Oklahoma Constitution
Article 5, Section 46 of the Oklahoma Constitution provides that the Oklahoma Legislature shall not pass special laws affecting certain subjects. A statute is a special law when part of an entire class of similarly affected persons is segregated and targeted for different treatment. The Legislature runs afoul of the prohibition on enacting special laws when it adopts a classification that is arbitrary and capricious and bears no reasonable relationship to the object of the legislation.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that the cap on noneconomic damages in personal injury cases is a special law because it targets for different treatment less than the entire class of similarly situated persons who sue to recover for bodily injury. The Oklahoma Supreme Court stated that the failing of the statute is that it purports to limit recovery for pain and suffering in cases where the plaintiff survives the injury-causing event, while persons who die from the injury-causing event face no such limitation. Oklahoma Constitution Article 23, Section 7 provides “The right of action to recover damages for injuries resulting in death shall never be abrogated, and the amount recoverable shall not be subject to any statutory limitation …”
The Oklahoma Supreme Court stated “if a decedent can recover without limitation for pain and suffering during the time between the harm-causing event and his or her death, no good reason exists to treat a person who survives the harm-causing event differently with respect to recovery for the very same detriment.” The Oklahoma Supreme Court further stated “Unlike the Legislature (which has imposed a discriminatory cap that favors only one party), the people of Oklahoma have shown by a clear preference that damages for personal injury be based on an assessment of evidence by a jury in a proceeding where the interested parties have the equal right to be heard on that issue.”
Beason v. I.E. Miller Services, Inc., 2019 OK 28.
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