Randy Zook, leader of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, gave a less-than-subtle nudge to legislators this week before a vote on SJR 8, the proposed constitutional amendment to cap the value of a human life at $250,000 and otherwise limit damages and attorney fees in damage lawsuits, often over negligence and abuse for corporations and medical facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes.
It has been selected by a Senate committee as that chamber’s amendment for the year.
Zook’s letter was a who’s-who list of major lobbies, though somewhat short of all the nursing home names enmeshed in scandals owing to a scheme to pour enormous campaign contributions into treasuries of friendly judicial candidates, from circuit to Supreme Court. They give money big-time. Zook need only to list them to make the point.
He could probably attach without objection the names of the same deep-pocketed political players to letters in behalf of the legislation slashing unemployment compensation benefits. The working men and women few rich allies to call on. Trial lawyers and unions are about it and not so rich and powerful. The corporate money isn’t issued in improving the nation’s worst landlord/tenant law either.
The chamber not only wants to limit compensation and end jury consideration of damages, but it is also working to put the courts under the control of the legislature, through SJR 8. As needed, the legislature — not the Supreme Court — would tailor court rules to the liking of corporations.
Unions? They have been marginalized for something like 70 years by a right to work law sold as a boost to the economy (just as Republicans said paying unemployed workers less would be good for the uunemployed workers). Look around. Arkansas still brings up the rear in household income, health and education. Corporate profits, however, aren’t too shabby.
Zook’s letter trots out the same old tired argument. Making it impossible for injured people to sue will “improve the legal climate” and make Arkansas a real jobs magnet. Arkansas is far from a runaway jury state in the first place. And study after study shows that limits on lawsuits produce little tangible results EXCEPT more corporate profits.
You can get plenty of material to refute Zook’s corporate apologia from the Arkansas Trial Lawyes’ Twitter feed. Such as:
* Preventable medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. You can see where doctors would like to bar the door to the courthouse to the injured.
* Tort reform has led to abysmal nursing home care in states that have adopted it.
* Tort reform didn’t lower health care costs in Texas, a pioneer in shutting courthouses to injured people. They’ve actually risen faster there.
And then there’s the real-life illustration of how a World War II hero, now a nursing home patient without “economic value” as defined by corporate Arkansas, has a life worth no more than $250,000 should he suffer unimaginable abuse in a nursing home. (Think of the woman left untreated, in agony until death, in an Arkansas nursing home. That’s the case where a judge pleaded guilty to reducing a unanimous jury verdict from $5.2 million to $1 million in return for campaign contributions. If the constitutional amendment passes, that abused woman’s family would have been entitled to no more than $250,000. There likely would have been no lawsuit at all.)