A 2011 Oklahoma statute limited damages Plaintiffs could recover for non-economic (read: pain and suffering) losses in cases where the Plaintiff survived their injuries. Only in cases resulting in death, such as a wrongful death claim, could a Plaintiff recover more than $350,000 for non-economic damages. On April 23, 2019, the Oklahoma Supreme Court declared this statute to be unconstitutional because it treats people of a similarly situated class differently.
In 2012, Todd Beason was working on an oil rig site when a crane operated by I.E. Miller Services, Inc. fell on him. Beason underwent two amputations on parts of his left arm. Him and his wife then sued I.E. Miller. At the trial, a jury awarded Beason and his wife $15 million, including $6 million in non-economic damages for their pain and suffering. However, due to the Oklahoma statute limiting non-economic damages in cases where the Plaintiff survived their injuries, the Judge reduced the verdict to $350,000 for each of the Beasons.
On appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court found the statute unconstitutional. In his opinion, Justice Reif said the statute was one in which it treats parts of a class of similarly situated people differently. The statute limits recovery for pain and suffering in cases where the plaintiff survives the injury-causing event, while people who die from the injury face no such limitation.
Prior to the ruling, eleven states capped non-economic damages in personal injury claims: Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, and Oklahoma, who no longer has such a limitation. The majority of states do not cap non-economic damages, with the exception of perhaps medical malpractice claims.
Oklahoma’s ruling, along with the majority of states, creates a plaintiff-friendly legal environment for potential recovery. The states that continue to cap non-economic damages may see some potential appeals after the latest ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court declaring the cap unconstitutional.