Issue 4 of 2016: Attorney Contingency Fees & Medical Damage Awards
UPDATE 10/13/16: The Arkansas Supreme Court struck this measure from the November ballot (even though it will still appear on the ballot, no votes will be counted).
Issue 4, “An Amendment to Limit Attorney Contingency Fees and Non-Economic Damages in Medical Lawsuits,” is an initiated referendum that would amend the state Constitution. Specifically, the measure would
♦ Bar attorneys from charging a client a contingency fee greater than 1/3 the dollar amount received in medical injury lawsuits against healthcare professionals or a healthcare business (whether the lawsuit is resolved outside of court, or via judgement by a judge or jury).
♦ Set a maximum dollar amount in medical injury lawsuits for noneconomic damages of at least $250,000. Noneconomic damages are monetary damages other than lost wages, medical expenses, or other expenses resulting from the medical injury. Noneconomic damages are more generally known as damages for “pain and suffering” and/or “inconvenience” or “loss of quality of life.” from a medical injury.
♦ Allow the Supreme Court to adjust the damages limit for inflation or deflation of a biennial basis.
♦ Define the terms “action for medical injury,” “healthcare provider,” “healthcare professional,” “healthcare business,” and “medical injury,” and allows state lawmakers to alter those definitions in the future via legislation.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge approved this initiated constitutional amendment on April 20, 2016 and the signature-gathering process began. Canvassers were hired and had until July 8, 2016 to submit 84,859 valid signatures (had to include at least 5% of the previous gubernatorial votes in at least 15 of the state’s counties).
More than 130,000 signatures went in to the Secretary of State for certification on July 8, 2016. The measure was certified for the ballot on August 5, 2016 with at least 92,997 valid signatures.
Chase Dugger of Beebe, executive director of the ballot question committee Health Care Access for Arkansans in support of the measure, said
Arkansans are concerned about our state being one of the 10 worst states in the nation for lawsuit abuse, and the impact predatory attorneys have on patients’ health care, medical professionals, hospitals, and clinics in our state. Now, they will have an opportunity to address this concern in November.
The website for Health Care Access for Arkansans says
Arkansas is 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. It’s simple: through higher prices and reduced access to care, Arkansans pay the price for predatory lawsuits….About half of the states in the country have put in place the types of reforms proposed by this initiative.
The Arkansas Bar Association (ABA) and another attorney-linked group have both sued to block Issue 4 from the November 8 ballot.
The ABA formed its own ballot question committee, Fairness for Arkansans, that sued to have the state Supreme Court remove the issue from the November 8 ballot. Then, on September 1, the Committee to Protect AR Families and Col. Mike Ross, retired Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey, James Brooks, Adam Jegley and Martha Deaver also sued, calling for the measure’s removal or for votes to not be counted.
Some info sourced from the UofA Division of Agriculture’s 2016 Ballot Issues Guide, the state repository of Arkansas Supreme Court rulings, Ballotpedia, and the Arkansas Legislature website.