Issue Four: Arkansas cap on medical malpractice attorney fees amendment

This seven-part series will examine the seven issues on the Arkansas State ballot for the general election on Nov. 8th. The objective of the series is to provide voters with information about each individual issue on the ballot before Election Day. 

Issue four: would change section three of Amendment 80 of the Arkansas Constitution. It would require the legislature to limit awards at $250,000 or less for noneconomic damages in medical-injury lawsuits. The Arkansas Supreme Court would be tasked with reviewing the cap and adjusting it for inflation. Issue four would also require legislators to prohibit attorneys from charging contingency fees (fees for a circumstance that cannot be predicted) or fees for legal representation, as well as prohibit more than one-third above the amount awarded to clients in medical-emergency lawsuits.

A yes vote would be in support of legislature to limit awards at $250,000 or less for noneconomic damages in medical-injury lawsuits. A no vote would oppose the measure limiting awards for non-economic damages in medical-injury lawsuits.

Supporters for issue four, organized as Healthcare Access for Arkansas, have raised $660,010. Committee to Protect Arkansas Families is in opposition of issue four and has raised $831,919.  According to ballotpedia.org, most of the support’s funding has come from nursing homes and assisted living center, whereas most of the opposition’s funding has come from lawyers.

According to ballotpedia.org, Healthcare Access for Arkansas argued that Issue four is needed because: “Arkansas ranks as one of the 10 worst states in the country for lawsuits. A higher rate of lawsuits raises health care costs for everyone, keeps doctors and specialists from moving to our state and compels existing ones to leave. About half of the states in the country have put in place the types of reforms proposed by the initiative.”

Daniel Greenburg, an attorney who helped write issue four, argued that, “every time a healthcare provider steps into the operating room…they are facing kind of a negative lottery. They are facing a chance of a huge verdict against them.”

Other arguments for issue four include caps on non-economic damages that can help lower the cost of liability insurance for nursing homes, which can result in lower costs for Medicaid. It would help ensure that Arkansans are not taken advantage of by trial lawyers and that patients and medical professionals are not taken advantage of by questionable lawsuits.

The Committee to Protect Arkansas Families is the leading campaign in opposition to issue four. Three points in opposition to the bill: it would place the value of a life at $250,000 if there are no economic damages; this amendment effectively takes away the constitutional freedom to have a trial by jury, the one mechanism Arkansans have to hold corporate nursing home owners responsible when they neglect and abuse elderly citizens. Opposition argues that issue four prevents juries from holding medical-care providers accountable for their negligence.

Martha Deaver, President of the Arkansas Advocates for Nursing Home Residents, argued that issue four, “for many years I have fought each and every day to give nursing home residents and their families the peace of mind that their loved ones will be given the highest quality of care available. This is an attack on our justice system and will protect the people who neglect our family members.”

To read more about constitutional changes proposed by issue four and lawsuits regarding issue four, visit ballot pedia.org.