LITTLE ROCK — A House committee on Thursday advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that would cap certain damages and attorney fees in civil lawsuits and give the Legislature the power to control court rules.
In a 14-3 vote, the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee gave a “do pass” recommendation to Senate Joint Resolution 8 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View. The bill, which passed previously in the Senate, goes to the House.
The committee advanced the bill with an amendment by co-sponsor Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville. Originally, the measure would, if referred to the November 2018 ballot and approved by voters, cap punitive damages awarded to a plaintiff in a case involving death, injuries or property damage at either $250,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded to the plaintiff, whichever is greater. The cap would not apply if a judge or jury finds that the defendant intended to cause the harm.
Ballinger’s amendment raises the proposed cap to $500,000.
Also, damages for harm that cannot be measured in money, such as pain, suffering and loss of life, would be capped at $500,000 per plaintiff, instead of the $250,000 previously proposed in the bill.
The measure would cap lawyers’ contingency fees at one-third of the net amount recovered by a client in a civil case, require that any rule change proposed by the state Supreme Court receive legislative approval before being implemented, and give the Legislature the power to change court rules on its own initiative with a three-fifths vote in each chamber.
The Legislature an refer up to three proposed constitutional amendments to the ballot every two years.
Ballinger said he proposed the amendment at the request of other legislators.