The Family Council, the religious right political lobby, has issued a statement urging its followers to oppose the so-called tort reform amendment to limit attorney fees and awards in damage lawsuits.
The Family Council said it has endorsed past efforts to put some limits on lawsuits, particularly in the case of medical malpractice, but this amendment goes too far.
In a statement from director Jerry Cox, the group said the amendment as written is good for businesses, hospitals and nursing homes.
On the other hand, SJR 8 is not a good law for nursing home residents at risk of being abused or neglected. Limiting how much juries can award in nursing home neglect cases makes it possible for nursing homes to cut staff, reduce care, and let patients suffer or die because the fear of a lawsuit is greatly reduced.
SJR 8 is not a good law for the stay-at-home mother who is disabled because someone is negligent. That’s because she has little income—a lot less economic value than the injured career-woman who can show a big paystub.
It is not a good law for a child who dies because someone administered the wrong medicine, once again, because children lack “economic” value. It is a bad law for the family killed by the careless driver of an eighteen-wheeler for all the above reasons. Why? Because SJR 8 sets a limit of $250,000 in noneconomic damages for an injury and $500,000 in cases of a death. It gives the legislature the power to restrict evidence that can be submitted in a personal-injury lawsuit. Without evidence, there is no case.
The statement urges a vote against SJR 8 as written and suggests a more moderate proposal. The measure also sets a limit on punitive damages of $250,000 or three times compensatory damages. The amendment also removes court rulemaking from the sole jurisdiction of the Arkansas Supreme Court and puts it in the hands of the legislature. Further legislatures’ ability to change the damage caps are limited by the amendment to inflationary changes only.
It’s a mean amendment, essentially anti-life, which is likely a part of the Family Council’s opposition. An official of Arkansas Right to Life has also expressed opposition to the amendment on that basis, saying it would encourage abortionists to locate in Arkansas. I doubt that, but if the state Constitution puts such a low value on life of those injured by corporate abuse and neglect it’s a bit hypocritical for the same legislators to wage war on abortion, assisted suicide and the like.
The depiction of the amendment as anti-life has drawn fierce reactions from legislative advocates, probably because it so appropriately stings.