LITTLE ROCK - Opponents of a ballot measure that would limit lawyers’ contingency fees and the amount of non-economic damages that could be awarded in medical lawsuits are asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to strike the measure from the ballot.
The ballot question committee Fairness for Arkansans filed a lawsuit with the state’s top court Monday alleging that the ballot title of Health Care Access for Arkansans’ proposal does not adequately explain the measure to voters. Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office approved the measure for the Nov. 8 ballot earlier this month.
If approved by voters, the proposed constitutional amendment would limit trial lawyer’s contingency fees to 33 1/3 percent of the amount recovered in a medical-injury case and direct the state Legislature to set a cap of no less than $250,000 on non-economic damages against health-care providers.
The suit alleges that the ballot title fails to inform voters that the measure would “dilute” a jury’s discretion, diminish the authority of the Arkansas Supreme Court to set court rules, shift some powers from the judicial to the legislative branch of government and create an exception to a current constitutional prohibition on the Legislature enacting limits on awards for injuries resulting in death or injuries to persons or property.
Fairness for Arkansans also alleges in the suit that the ballot title fails to define key terms, including “non-economic damages.”
The group also filed motions Monday asking the court to hear oral arguments and give the case expedited consideration because of the nearness of the election.
The Arkansas Bar Association created Fairness for Arkansans. The bar association announced the suit in a news conference at its Little Rock headquarters Monday.
Denise Hoggard, the bar association’s president, said the organization also believes the proposal is a bad idea.
“The American Bar Association looked at the … effect of putting caps on attorney fees, and what they found was that it served no legitimate purpose except to un-level the playing field for the litigants and the people who need access to the courts,” she said.
Chase Dugger, executive director of Health Care Access for Arkansans, said Monday, “These attorneys profit from lawsuits for a living, so it’s no surprise to see them try the lawsuit tactic here, too. They want to prevent Arkansas voters from having a voice in how these lawsuits impact all of our health-care costs. This lawsuit aims to protect these lawyers’ ability to maximize profits when going after our hospitals, doctors and other health-care professionals.”
Dugger said non-economic damages are damages not related to direct economic losses.
“It’s also a category used by trial lawyers to excessively inflate verdicts and their fees,” he said.
Another ballot question committee formed to oppose the measure, The Committee to Protect AR Families, is not part of the suit.