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Tort Reform Measure Challenged by Former Judge

Ballot Measure / Tort Reform Measure Challenged by Former Judge

Former Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Marion Humphrey is challenging the ballot measure that would cap damages awarded in lawsuits and give legislative control over court rules in Arkansas.

Humphry filed the lawsuit last week, challenging the proposed constitutional amendment, also known as Issue 1, that Arkansas legislators voted in 2017 to put on the November ballot. The measure limits damages that can be awarded in civil lawsuits and contingency fees attorneys can receive in those suits. The measure also would give the Legislature power to change, repeal or adopt rules for the state’s courts.

In the lawsuit, Humphry claims the measure unconstitutionally combines four separate proposals. He also suggests it violates the separation of powers by giving the legislative branch power over the judicial branch. Humphry asks that a Pulaski County judge disqualify the measure and prevent election officials from counting any votes for it.

The proposed amendment caps noneconomic damages awarded in lawsuits to $500,000 and would restrict punitive damages to $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, whichever is higher. The Legislature would be able to increase these limits with a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate. It also caps attorneys’ contingency fees at 33 1/3 percent of the net amount recovered in the suit.

“[Issue 1] attempts to claw back what the Arkansas Legislature has previously admitted and recognized as the Arkansas Supreme Court’s vested constitutional, inherent and statutory authority,” the lawsuit says.

The measure has the backing of business and healthcare groups such as the state Chamber of Commerce and the Arkansas Health Care Association, which have argued the limits are needed to make Arkansas more competitive with surrounding states.

Opponents have said the amendment places an arbitrary limit on damages, which would supersede juries. Humphry makes a similar argument in his lawsuit. Studies also show that similar tort reform measures disproportionately harm women, children, the elderly and the less affluent.

“This proposal would close the doors to the courthouse for ordinary citizens and effectively extinguish their right to a jury trial in all cases,” the lawsuit reads.

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