Arkansas Justices Toss Medical Liability Limits From November Ballot

Arkansas’ Supreme Court said Thursday that voters won’t be able to consider award limits in medical liability cases because the language outlining the plan on the November ballot doesn’t fully describe what the proposal would do.

Ballots have already been printed, so the court directed that no votes be counted on the proposal. Under the plan’s provisions, legislators would have been allowed to cap non-economic damages against health care providers for medical injuries at a minimum of $250,000.

Proposal supporters argued that the limits were needed to control health care costs. But in a unanimous decision, the court said the proposal’s supporters never said what “non-economic damages” meant and ruled that it would be wrong to ask voters to take a stab at a definition.

“We have disapproved the use of terms that are technical and not readily understood by voters, such that voters would be placed in a position of either having to be an expert in the subject or having to guess as to the effect his or her vote would have,” Justice Paul E. Danielson wrote in the ruling.

The court noted that most voters don’t explore ballot issues until immediately before voting. Justices reasoned that a voter wouldn’t be able to reach an “intelligent and informed decision” with only the language placed before them.

The court gave the proposal’s supporters five working days to request a rehearing before its order becomes final.

The measure had been placed on the ballot by petition. A special master appointed by the court raised questions about the signature-gathering process, but justices concentrated on the language and didn’t decide questions about the petition.

Danielson also said that while the attorney general’s office had approved the language, the court wasn’t required to follow along.

Two lawsuits were filed against the proposal. Justices ruled in both of them Thursday, citing the same reason in both.

Early voting begins in Arkansas on Oct. 24.