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Tort Reform Debate Continues Amid Legal Uncertainty

Jayaprakash Veeramreddy
Chad Gallagher, a former mayor of DeQueen, speaks against Issue One at a meeting of NEA Political Animals at the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018.

Activists on both sides of tort reform say they’ll proceed with their voter education campaigns despite a judge’s ruling stated that so-called Issue One is not qualified for the November ballot in Arkansas.

At a Northeast Arkansas Political Animals forum held at the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce on Friday, speakers debated the merits of caps limiting medical malpractice awards and said the conversation will continue, despite Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce’s ruling on Sept. 6 that the proposed amendment does not meet a “single-subject test.” 

That ruling is being challenged by Arkansans for Jobs and Justice.

Last year the Arkansas General Assembly passed the ballot item. It would cap punitive and damage awards plaintiffs may win in, for instance, a medical malpractice lawsuit, as well as give the Assembly rulemaking and procedural oversight of the judiciary. These two seemingly disparate results prompted Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce to rule the measure unconstitutional earlier this week.

Credit Jayaprakash Veeramreddy / KASU
Jodiane Tritt with the Arkansas Hospital Association speaks in favor of Issue 1 at a Friday forum in Jonesboro.

“Of course we want the votes counted, so we’re looking to see what it will actually mean,” said Jodiane Tritt with the Arkansas Hospital Association of the judge’s order.

Chad Gallagher, a consultant who previously served as mayor of DeQueen, said he and other Issue 1 opponents would have also preferred for the issue to go to voters to get it settled.

“It’s a solution in search of a problem,” he told the forum, noting that Arkansas does not have a high rate of excessive medical malpractice awards and that not having caps on awards has not interfered with the state’s ability to attract and retain doctors.

Tritt, a good friend of Gallagher’s, disagreed during their friendly debate at the Chamber. She said caps on malpractice awards will help encourage the best health care professionals to move to or stay in Arkansas.

“Instead of outsourcing them so other states have better economic development at our expense,” she said.

Issue One is currently set to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, but the votes may or may not be counted, depending on whether the state Supreme Court takes action on the judge’s order.

This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you!

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