BART HESTER: Brings back effort to limit damage lawsuits.

It’s back, the perennial effort by the business lobby to limit damages that can be assessed when people are injured by negligence, malpractice and other wrongs.

Republican Sen. Bart Hester introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that doesn’t reach as far as the business/nursing home lobby effort that was struck from the ballot last year.


Hester’s proposal would place a limit on non-economic damages. This particularly harms damaged children and elderly, who can’t establish economic losses no matter the pain they may have suffered. It also limits punitive damages, the kind of awards that can discourage bad behavior by corporate actors. The actual loss in an individual case might be small — to small to sue — but facing the prospect of punitive damages, the theory is that a bad actor might straighten up.

The proposal doesn’t set a specific limit, but turns that power over to the legislature. Feel better. This is a legislature that is prepared to give an income tax windfall to the richest 1 percent in Arkansas, nothing to the poorestt. It is about to slap more taxes on the cost of gasoline and continue practices that limit medical coverage for the working poor. Predictions. If passed, the limits aren’t likely to be generous.


The amendment last year put caps on attorney fees and also stripped the Supreme Court of rule-making authority, overreaches that cost the measure a place on the ballot. This idea will serve doctors, hospitals, nursing homes and rogue corporations just as well. It’s worked like a charm in Texas in discouraging suits to recover for loss. Why not Arkansas? I can hear the advocates now: This will make us competitive with neighboring states and attract business. Come to Arkansas. You can negligently maim people without fear of serious penalties.

A group is already at work to oppose the measure, Protect Arkansas Families. It issued a statement through politico Chad Gallagher (a Republican insider and former Huckabee aide, it so happens).


“This is just the latest scheme by selfish special interests to put a government-mandated price on human life. Senate Joint Resolution 8 would remove Arkansans’ guaranteed constitutional right to a trial by a citizen jury and surrender power to politicians and corrupt corporate lobbyists to decide a one-size-fits-all value on human life. Special interests will never stop trying to rig the system at the expense of our rights, and it is crucial that this legislation be stopped.”

The group has a website up. It was prepared to fight the 2018 ballot initiative and raised more than $1 million, mostly from lawyers.

This amendment, it should be noted, continues the likelihood of drawing fire from conservative religious groups that objected to the low value of life put on people by the previous amendment’s cap on non-economic damages. That won’t change, though there’s not a specific amount to fire at. The previous amendment set the limit at $500,000 for non-economic damages and that, or three times compensatory damages if greater, for punitive damages.