Arkansas Voters to Consider Limits on Non-Economic Damages in Suits Against Healthcare Providers

By KELLY P. KISSEL | August 8, 2016

Arkansas voters this fall will be allowed to consider a constitutional amendment that would limit non-economic damages in lawsuits against healthcare providers and set a limit on contingency fees lawyers could receive in medical injury cases. It joins four other issues already on the ballot, and two others are still under a state review.

The group Health Care Access for Arkansas, while soliciting signatures this year, said the state was one of the 10 worst for the impact that “predatory attorneys” have on the health care system.

“Over the course of the next few months, trial attorneys (greedy) for higher fees will try to say and do anything to mislead voters on this amendment to protect their outrageous earnings,” said Chase Dugger, the group’s executive director.

Under the proposal, attorneys could be limited to receiving one-third of damages won in lawsuits against health care providers. It would also require legislators to limit non-economic damages, such as those for pain and suffering.

The group Committee to Protect AR Families said in a statement the proposal would take rights away from vulnerable people.

“While the corporate nursing home owners and their lobbyists succeeded in placing a constitutional amendment on this November’s ballot that would give corporate nursing homes a free pass to abuse and neglect the elderly, I am confident that Arkansas voters will see through this scam and vote it down,” said Martha Deaver, a committee member.

The proposal needed signatures from 84,859 registered voters – or 10 percent of the number of people who voted in the 2014 gubernatorial election. Secretary of State Mark Martin said his staff validated 92,997 signatures.

The damage limits proposal joins a voter-backed medical marijuana plan that has already made the Nov. 8 ballot. Another medical marijuana measure could go before voters, too, along with one allowing casinos in three counties – if enough signatures are validated for each.

Legislators last year sent three proposals to the ballot. One would increase the terms of most county offices to four years, relax restrictions on what crimes prevent people from holding office and remove unopposed candidates from ballots; another would let the governor retain power while out of state; and another would remove a cap on bonds the state can issue to attract employers.

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