A proposed constitutional amendment that would set limits on attorney fees and allow the legislature to set severe limits on damage awards in cases of abuse and negligence by medical providers will appear on the ballot this November, the secretary of state’s office announced yesterday.
The amendment effort, filed by former state Rep. Dan Greenberg and backed by the nursing home lobby, collected 92,997 validated signatures of registered voters, surpassing the 84,859 required.
The practical impact of the amendment would be to discourage lawsuits, which explains why big nursing home owners have poured money into the effort.
In the past, legal actions have exposed the unspeakable mistreatment of elderly people in nursing homes. In 2013, a unanimous jury verdict set damages for pain, suffering and mental anguish at $5.2 million for the negligent treatment of Martha Bull, a 76-year-old woman who died in agony at a Greenbrier nursing home owned by Michael Morton. The presiding judge, Mike Maggio, a major recipient of campaign cash from Morton, reduced the damages to $1 million; Maggio later admitted to bribery in the case.
The proposed nursing-home-lobby-backed amendment would allow the legislature to limit non-economic damages in cases like Martha Bull’s to just $250,000. The amendment requires the legislature to set a cap, with a minimum of $250,000 (that cap is per defendant, not per plaintiff, so the damages awarded to a plaintiff could exceed that if multiple medical providers were found culpable).
Martha Deaver, long-time advocate for better care in nursing homes who formed the Committee to Protect AR Families last month to fight the amendment, issued the following statement:
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.
The Committee to Protect AR Families will defend our state’s constitution, and most importantly, protect our families from the corporate nursing home industry as well as any others who attempt to strip away the rights of our most vulnerable citizens.
Arkansans have a constitutional right to hold corporate wrongdoers of the healthcare industry accountable when they abuse and neglect our loved ones, and we are going to work hard to preserve that constitutional right. We will vigorously oppose the corporate nursing home owners’ efforts to devalue human life.