State Se­nate ap­proves amend­ment ask­ing vot­ers to limit dam­ages awarded in law­suits

Texarkana Gazette - - METRO/STATE -

LIT­TLE ROCK—A plan to ask Ar­kan­sas vot­ers to limit dam­ages awarded in law­suits and give the Leg­is­la­ture con­trol over court rules was ap­proved by the state Se­nate on Thurs­day, de­spite crit­i­cism from op­po­nents who call the move an at­tempt by law­mak­ers to take over the ju­di­cial sys­tem.

The ma­jor­ity-Repub­li­can Se­nate voted 21-10 to re­fer the pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to vot­ers next year. The mea­sure is ex­pected to eas­ily clear the House, where more than half of the mem­bers in the ma­jor­ity-Repub­li­can cham­ber are co-spon­sor­ing it.

The pro­posal would place lim­its on puni­tive and non-eco­nomic dam­ages awarded in civil law­suits, and re­strict the con­tin­gency fees lawyers could col­lect in those cases. It would also re­quire leg­isla­tive ap­proval for any rules of plead­ing, prac­tice or pro­ce­dure for state courts.

The bal­lot mea­sure has the back­ing of busi­ness groups such as the state Cham­ber of Com­merce, who say it’ll cre­ate a bet­ter le­gal en­vi­ron­ment for com­pa­nies and pre- vent friv­o­lous law­suits.

“I think it’s ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary to re­gain the power of the leg­isla­tive branch to put forth any civil jus­tice re­form,” Repub­li­can Sen. Missy Irvin said be­fore the vote. “I’m ask­ing you to al­low those who are smart enough to serve on a jury, they’re smart enough to vote on this at the bal­lot box.”

The pro­posed amend­ment, if ap­proved by vot­ers, would limit puni­tive dam­ages in law­suits to $250,000 or three times the amount of com­pen­satory dam­ages. Noneco­nomic dam­ages would be lim­ited to $250,000 or $500,000 for all ben­e­fi­cia­ries of a claimant who died. At­tor­neys’ con­tin­gency fees would be lim­ited to 33.3 per­cent of the net amount of money re­cov­ered through a set­tle­ment, ar­bi­tra­tion or judg­ment.

The Leg­is­la­ture could in­crease the dam­age caps but couldn’t lower them, if vot­ers ap­proved the amend­ment.

The mea­sure faces op­po­si­tion from the Ar­kan­sas Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, and the chief jus­tice of the state Supreme Court this week ob­jected to the pro­vi­sion al­low­ing the Leg­is­la­ture to con­trol court rules.

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