Vote “YES” on Medical Malpractice Tort Reform (Issue 4)
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).
All the misinformation circulating around Issue 4 makes it difficult to see the underlying proposal clearly. Issue 4 is the beginning of badly needed medical tort reform in Arkansas, so (understandably) the personal injury attorneys (and the Arkansas Bar Association) are fighting mightily against it.
This proposal would limit personal injury attorneys from charging more than 33 1/3 percent in contingency fees in medical malpractice cases (which is a customary charge), and also sets a minimum $250,000 amount for noneconomic damages in those cases.
Noneconomic damages are those hard-to-quantify damages like “pain and suffering,” mental anguish,” and “loss of companionship” that some unscrupulous personal injury attorneys abuse to increase the overall dollar amount a case is worth.
Issue 4 would set a minimum of $250,000 for those damages, and allows the Legislature to set an upper limit. (Issue 4 would not alter economic damages, and does not apply to workers compensation cases at all.) Opponents who tell you the $250,000 is “the cost of a life” are not being honest with you — the $250,000 figure is a minimum, not a maximum amount.
Personal injury attorneys can currently charge any amount, as long as the client agrees. So, limiting contingency fees to 33 1/3% ensures that the injured party does, in fact, receive the majority of whatever monetary amount may result from a lawsuit (rather than the attorney getting most of it). This limit works together with the provision to set a minimum for noneconomic damages to prevent attorneys from unreasonably running up the dollar amount of a case with their only aim being to obtain a bigger paycheck once the case is finished.
The Arkansas Bar Association and its personal injury attorneys who would be directly affected by Issue 4 complain this measure “takes the authority of the jury” away. Again, they are not being entirely honest — this is not the only “limit” on a jury within our legal system, as numerous circumstances serve to legally limit juries (including the right of a judge to completely over-rule jury verdicts).
Numerous studies show that limiting these fees and damages has a positive effect on medical malpractice insurance for health care practitioners (drives insurance premiums down) and helps to allow doctors to focus on caring for patients, not ordering more and more tests to try to protect themselves from future lawsuits.
The Arkansas Project has concluded that Issue 4 will help provide greater healthcare access and have a positive effect on Arkansas’ economy.
We vote “YES” on Issue 4 because Arkansas badly needs tort reform, and medical malpractice is a great place to begin.