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The Time for Tort Reform is NOW

Article from the December 2017 Issue of the Journal of the Arkansas Medical Society

Okay Arkansas physicians, here is your chance to have real tort reform.

The Arkansas Medical Society has joined with a diverse group of organizations to help pass SJR 8, a constitutional amendment referred to the voters by the Arkansas General Assembly. SJR 8 will appear on the November 2018 general election ballot.

In 2003, AMS was a leading supporter of the Civil Justice Reform Act, a tort reform measure passed by the Arkansas General Assembly. Since 2003, the courts in Arkansas have stripped away most of the provisions of that statute. The only way to have real tort reform in Arkansas is to pass a constitutional amendment.

SJR 8, sponsored by Sen. Missy Irvin and Rep. Bob Ballinger, was adopted in the 2017 legislative session with 66 co-sponsors. The amendment has four primary components:

  • 33 1/3% cap on attorney contingency fees
  • $500,000 cap on non-economic damages
  • Cap on punitive damages equal to the greater of $500,000 or 3 times
    compensatory damages
  • Provisions designed to authorize the Arkansas General Assembly to adopt other tort reform measures

That last provision may be the most important.

As stated above, previous tort reform statutes have been overturned by the courts on the grounds that those provisions amounted to “rules of the court” and were the sole purview of the court. If SJR 8 passes, the Arkansas General Assembly will be constitutionally authorized to adopt these “rules of the court.” That would enable the legislature to consider legislation replacing the 2003 tort reform measures and more.

The ballot question committee created to support SJR 8 is Arkansans for Jobs and Justice. Paperwork creating the committee was filed in October. The AMS is joined by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, The Poultry Federation, Arkansas Trucking Association, and the Arkansas Health Care Association as the initial members of the committee. The AMS Board of Trustees has pledged $500,000 from AMS reserves to support the effort. We will be reaching out to AMS membership and other physician organizations to help fund what is expected to be a multi-million-dollar campaign.

Make no mistake, this will be a difficult and expensive battle. Arkansas trial attorneys have been stock-piling money since the 2003 statute in anticipation that sooner or later the supporters of that law would seek a constitutional amendment.

Carl Vogelpohl has been selected to manage the campaign. Carl has a strong background in campaign strategy and has most recently been serving as chief of staff to Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and was her campaign manager leading up to her election.

AMS is already receiving strong support from state specialty societies representing urology and ophthalmology as well as our sponsored insurance carrier, State Volunteer Mutual Insurance Company.

In the coming weeks and months, expect to hear a lot about the campaign to pass SJR 8 and how you can help make the campaign successful.

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