According to wmctv.com and the Insurance Journal, Arkansas lawmakers weighed in early this 2013 competing ballot measures to address court rulings that overturned parts of a 2003 tort reform law. The measures included a proposal to give the Legislature the authority to write the rules and practices for the state’s courts.
There were two proposals in response to recent court rulings over a 2003 law aimed at capping punitive damages in civil lawsuits. State court justices in 2012 tossed out a part of the 2003 law that specified who would be considered an expert in medical malpractice cases.
Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, proposed giving the Legislature the authority to set the rules of pleading, practice and procedure for all courts in Arkansas. Williams stated his proposed amendment returned to lawmakers a power they had before voters approved Amendment 80 to the Arkansas Constitution in 2000. Amendment 80 states the Supreme Court shall “prescribe the rules of pleading, practice and procedure for all courts.”
Williams said: “Any type of tort reform we’ve tried to do has been struck down by the supreme court because of amendment 80, section 3.” Williams was supported by the state’s business lobby. The lobby preferred lawmakers addressing the court rulings over the tort reform law.
The Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association opposed Williams’ legislation as a “lobbyist employment act” and stated it would change the separation of powers in the state Constitution.
Some trial lawyers might support an alternative proposal by Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson that would request voters to approve changes regarding damages and experts in cases rather than giving rule-making authority solely to the Legislature.
Hutchinson’s proposed amendment would require expert witnesses to be trained in the same specialty as the defendant and require those who file a lawsuit that is found to be frivolous to pay up to $10,000 in court costs and fees to the defendant. Hutchinson’s proposal would cap punitive damages at nine times the amount of compensatory damages awarded in a civil lawsuit and allow courts to determine percentages of responsibility when awarding damages.
Hutchinson stated he crafted the bill after speaking with business and lawyers groups to understand what a compromise on tort reform would be. He stated specifying the reforms would provide more certainty than handing over the rule-making authority to the Legislature.
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