A Dollars Worth of Gas, Buck Night and Tort Reform

A DOLLARS WORTH OF GAS, BUCK NIGHT AND TORT REFORM FOR THE COMMON GOOD - September 1, 2013

State Representative David Perryman

In March 1973, I crossed a threshold that so many 16 year olds face with trepidation. I successfully parallel parked my parents’ 1969 Impala with the driver’s license examiner, checklist in hand, sitting in the passenger seat.  It was one of those monumental, life altering events that validate one’s worth. My newly acquired status allowed me to seek employment as the Saturday delivery boy at the small country store in my home town.

Except for brief gas wars between the Skelly station and the D-X station across the street from each other, throughout that summer and until the October oil embargo hit, gasoline was around 30 cents per gallon. Ten ounce bottles of pop and large candy bars were a dime apiece and all summer long, Thursday night was buck night, a dollar per car load, at the drive-in theatre.  I quickly became “independently wealthy” at the 1973 minimum wage of $1.60 per hour.

Unfortunately, based upon the Consumer Price Index, today’s minimum wage (Currently $7.25 per hour) would have to be $8.42 and gasoline (Currently over $3.50 per gallon) would have to be only $1.58 per gallon for a wage earner to have the same buying power as I had in 1973. No wonder so many people find themselves having too much month left at the end of the money.

This week, we have been hastily called back to the Capitol for a special session to consider monetary caps on damages and other issues called tort reform. Anytime anyone, Democrat or Republican, is in such a hurry that they want to rush something through; the motive is suspect, usually involves money and which side of the bread is being buttered.

The absolute irony is that the special session and tort reform are being pushed by insurance companies and people who normally scream and yell about big government, regulatory interference and attacks on the free market.  They beg for personal accountability and say that they want the Constitution upheld.

Except this session, as they ask the government to step in and adopt regulations limiting and restricting the ability of injured persons or their survivors to hold a wrongdoer accountable?  Except this session, as they ask the government to cap the amount of money that a jury of peers can legally award to the spouse and children of a person who is killed by the actions of a negligent or reckless person?

The Constitution provides a person who is wronged or injured or whose life is taken shall be compensated and the right to a jury trial shall not be infringed upon. Instead of worrying about which side the bread is buttered on, wouldn’t it be in the common good to say, “What is good for the goose is good for the gander,” or maybe a more appropriate phrase is, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Luke 6:31 is the epitome of the Common Good.   

Based upon the current composition of the legislature, most of the 2009 law will be readopted.  Unfortunately, since this is all about money, the proposal is to readopt it 2009 dollar levels or below.  The costs and expenses of injured people and their survivors increase year to year just like yours and mine.  With nothing in the law to provide for adjustment to 2013 levels, we are placing injured people in an even greater hardship than they were when the 2009 law passed.

That is why I am proposing 9 bills and amendments to address a number of inequities in the 2009 law.  For instance, since a 2009 dollar is worth only 91 cents today, I am proposing legislation that would adjust those numbers to 2013 values. Otherwise, injured people would get 9 percent less value than they would have four years ago. This adjustment gives injured persons and the families of people who have been killed the buying power of 2009 dollars and keeps injured people or survivors from being treated more harshly than they were in 2009 when these caps were first put in place.

My other amendments deal with keeping kids safe at school, helps teachers and school support personnel defends themselves when they have been falsely accused, cleans up typographical errors and removes the penalty that prevented injured persons from receiving pre-judgment interest after their injuries have been verified.  The goal of the Constitution is to make sure that people are made whole.

Gas will never again cost 30 cents per gallon. Not for me, not for you and not for the families of a person killed by another person’s negligence.

Thank you for allowing me to serve as State Representative.  If you have questions or comments about this issue or any other matter, please contact me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.