Tulsa lawyer explains implications of "Loser Pays" law error

Sabah Khalaf says the law would discourage people from filing lawsuits against large corporations, making them fear the consequences if they lose the case. (KTUL)

We've all heard of cases where the judge will make one side pay the attorney fees of the other. House Bill 1470, passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Fallin, makes some big changes to that policy

"It makes Oklahoma the only state in the United States to have a loser pay system. It made it to where the American rule, where everyone pays for their own cost of litigation would now be subject to the British rule where the loser pays," said local attorney Sabah Khalaf.

So why has Oklahoma seemingly gone so far off course?

"The concern is obviously that we did something accidentally that was not intended, and where it's such a dramatic change to our civil justice system that we need to take a second look at it," said Senator David Holt.

Senator Holt introduced HB 1470, not as a way to create a loser pay system, but to raise the statute of limitations on child sex assault cases. Victims will be able to come forward as late as age 45, rather than the current cutoff of 20. The trade off was a loser pay system applying only to those cases to limit any frivolous cases. But an amendment, added in committee accidentally applied that to every civil case, which Khalaf says has far-reaching implications.

"Let's say even before trial at a motion for summary judgment, or a motion to dismiss, or some other type of motion practice, I would have to pay whatever amount the court would determine to be reasonable attorneys fees and costs. That would deter me as a middle-income American from wanting to pursue any type of litigation against a corporation I knew could subject me to life-changing amounts of debt," said Khalaf.

The law as written goes into effect on November first. Holt is working on a bill that would correct the error.

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