LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Legal Newsline) – Changes have been proposed to the
compensation levels for attorneys and clients in jury trials, the maximum
amounts of awardable damage rewards as well as limits to the power of the State
All of these alterations come at the behest of state
Sen. Missy Irvin (R-18) in her bill "An Amendment Concerning Civil
Lawsuits and the Powers of the General Assembly and Supreme Court to Adopt
The bill (SJR8 #1) passed the General Assembly with
several amendments March 1 and now awaits the decision of voters whether to
approve or reject it via a referendum on Nov. 6, 2018.
Irvin’s bill looks to set a limit for contingency fees lawyers
receive at 33.33 percent of the net recovery amount, with penalties imposed for
going over that limit.
Also included in the bill are caps on awards handed
down by juries for non-economic damages and punitive damages resulting in
injury or death. Both forms max out at $500,000 per claimant, with punitive
damage rewards being that limit or three times the amount of compensatory
It has been reported
that such a law would greatly benefit numerous businesses, including nursing
homes and physicians by reducing medical malpractice insurance rates.
Arkansas Sen. Will Bond (D-32) told Legal Newsline that the cap was unfair
and limited citizens’ fundamental rights for a jury reward based on a redress
of grievances. In addition, Bond questioned the practical need for such
a law, seeing as the state judiciary has no power of additur that, in many
cases, causes reward inflations elsewhere.
“We [in Arkansas] do not have a significant issue with
runaway jury verdicts,” said Bond.
The final item in the bill gives the General
Assembly more say in the Supreme Court’s rules governing court pleading,
practice and procedure and comes after the General Assembly had granted the
high court the sweeping authority back in 2000. Irvin’s bill requires three-fifths of
voting members to approve any amendment or repeal of these rules.
The motion, which caps four years of legislative
maneuvering, came after a significant amount of discussion among lawmakers, according to Bond. Despite the time spent, the resulting ballot
initiative has left some, like Bond, questioning the impact the law will
have on the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches
within the state.
“This is the wholesale takeover of the judiciary which
is an issue. It puts the legislature over the judicial branch which is a huge
concern of mine,” stated Bond.
The senator said that what bothered him the
most was that there was a majority belief among the General Assembly that the
judiciary should be treated as just another department of state government and
not as a separate and co-equal branch as intended by the state constitution.
Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Dan Kemp is on
the record as
being opposed to the Irvin’s bill as it pertains to the high court. When questioned
about the justice’s comments, Bond told Legal
Newsline that he was not present during that hearing and could not comment
on the testimony of the chief justice.
All of these changes, if
approved, are set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2019. Asked about
the chances of the ballot being approved by voters in November 2018, Bond
replied that it was “a little bit early” but that two or three months out it
would become apparent which way the vote would go.
In the meantime, Bond said it was his hope that “people
are paying attention.” The senator closed by saying that he believed, at the
current time, people were a bit guarded about the General Assembly meddling in
Newsline contacted Irvin’s
office several times concerning her bill but received no response.