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Oklahoma Overturns Medical Expert Affidavit Requirement


A man underwent decompressive laminectomies at multiple sites along the cervical spine. A decompressive laminectomy is a surgery that creates space by removing the lamina – the back part of the vertebra that covers the spinal canal – to enlarge the spinal canal to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves.

 

After the surgery, the man allegedly became partially paralyzed. The man reportedly suffered constant pain. The man was hospitalized for four months and was required to undergo additional medical treatment.

 

The man sued the hospital, surgeon, and surgeon’s practice group. The complaint alleged negligence, gross negligence, and medical malpractice. The complaint sought punitive damages for the failure of the hospital, the surgeon, and the surgeon’s practice group to render reasonable medical care, breach of the duty of care, and the man’s resulting injuries. The man failed to attach an affidavit of merit to the petition as required by Oklahoma statute.

 

The hospital, surgeon, and surgeon’s practice group filed a motion to dismiss for failure to attach an affidavit of merit.

 

The Tulsa County District Court found that the statutory affidavit requirement violated Oklahoma’s constitution by imposing impediments on a patient’s right to access courts. The trial court rejected the man’s argument that the statutory affidavit requirement was an unconstitutional special law.

 

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma affirmed the trial court’s holding that the statutory affidavit requirement violated Oklahoma’s constitution by imposing impediments on a patient’s right to access courts, reversed the trial court’s holding that the statutory affidavit requirement was not an unconstitutional special law, and remanded. The court held that the Oklahoma statute requiring plaintiffs in a civil negligence action, in which expert testimony is required to establish breach of standard of care, to attach to the complaint an affidavit of merit violated the provision of Oklahoma’s constitution guarantying access to the courts; and the statute violated the Oklahoma constitution’s special law prohibition.

 

The Oklahoma statute requiring plaintiffs in a civil negligence action, in which expert testimony is required to establish a breach of the standard of care, to attach to the complaint an affidavit of merit, violated the provision of Oklahoma’s constitution guarantying access to the courts. The statute required a plaintiff to clear all the procedural hurdles before the plaintiff reached the courthouse steps. The affidavit requirement operated to delay, and, in some instances, deny, adjudication of a plaintiff’s claims for plaintiff’s failure to satisfy procedural hurdles.

 

The statute violated the Oklahoma constitution’s special law prohibition. While victims of an expert negligence action were required to pay for extremely expensive pre-petition expert review and evidentiary materials, general negligence victims were not. The statute operated to remove any exercise of judicial discretion from the trial court’s purview relating to dismissal. The statute operated on a subset of negligence plaintiffs for different evidentiary treatment based on the type of action the plaintiff pursues.

 

The Supreme Court of Oklahoma affirmed the trial court’s holding that the statutory affidavit requirement violated Oklahoma’s constitution by imposing impediments on a patient’s right to access courts, reversed the trial court’s holding that the statutory affidavit requirement was not an unconstitutional special law, and remanded.

 

See: John v. Saint Francis Hospital, Inc., 2017 WL 4785324 (Okla., October 24, 2017), as amended (Oct 25, 2017)(not designated for publication). 

 

 

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