What Will Change If Issue 1 Passes?

Issue 1 is a proposed amendment to the Arkansas Constitution that was referred by the Arkansas Legislature for a vote at the November 6, 2018, Arkansas General Election.  It will be voted on statewide, and if passed, this amendment will become part of the Arkansas Constitution.  Issue 1 changes how all injury lawsuits are handled in Arkansas.  Currently, a person who is injured because of someone’s negligence or wrongdoing can file a lawsuit and have their case decided by a jury.  Juries and judges can weigh the facts of each case and award as much in damages as they believe is appropriate.   If Issue 1 passes, judges and juries will be limited in how much they can award in damages.  Fees charged by attorneys will be capped. The legislature will be able to decide which evidence is admissible in all personal injury lawsuits.  Non-economic damages and punitive damages will be capped.

Issue 1 changes the way injury lawsuits are done 

  • It maintains our current law that allows the collection of unlimited economic damages.
  • It applies to all cases in which a lawyer is hired without being paid until the case is settled. His fee, called a contingency fee, is based on a percentage of the final monetary settlement.
  • After voters have passed Issue 1, the legislature is allowed to define certain terms in Issue 1 such as contingency fee, civil action, and net amount of recovery.
  • It caps non-economic damages at no more than $500,000.
  • It prevents the legislature from setting this amount any lower than $500,000.
  • It caps punitive damages at no more than three times the total of economic and non-economic damages.
  • It allows the cap on punitive damages to be exceeded if clear and convincing evidence proves that someone intended to cause harm to the person who was injured.
  • It caps attorney fees at no more than one-third of the net amount recovered in the lawsuit.
  • It allows the legislature to lower attorney contingency fees as low as they choose.
  • It allows the Arkansas Legislature to overrule the Arkansas Supreme Court by setting rules of pleading, practice, and procedure.
  • It allows the Arkansas Legislature to set rules of pleading, practice, and procedure for all courts not just ones dealing with injury lawsuits.
  • It allows the Arkansas Legislature to set court rules that determine what types of evidence can be introduced in all personal injury lawsuits.

What the passage of Issue 1 would mean for the average Arkansan

  • It will be more difficult for a person to win a lawsuit against a big corporation when they’ve been injured.
  • Even if an injured person has a strong case against a big corporation, the judge and jury that hears their case may not be able to offer them a fair settlement because Issue 1 sets a low limit on noneconomic and punitive damages that judges and juries can award.
  • The legislature and their corporate lobbyist supporters will pass laws that restrict evidence and court proceedings so much that it will be difficult for an average person to win a lawsuit against a big company.
  • Corporate nursing homes and other big companies can disregard safety and hurt innocent people without the fear of a big lawsuit. Big hospitals, corporate nursing homes, trucking companies, and other big businesses can compromise safety by cutting corners to make more money.
  • It will be difficult for an average person to find a lawyer to take their case. Because contingency fees will be so limited, lawyers will need payment in advance before taking a case.  Most people cannot afford this, so they will have to settle for whatever the big company offers them.
  • The scales of justice will be tipped in favor of the wealthy and powerful.
  • People who have been injured by a big company who cannot get a fair settlement may end up on welfare and cost taxpayers more money.

Defining terms in Issue 1

  • What types of damages can be awarded in an injury lawsuit
    • Economic damages: Damages that can be measured in money, including:
      • Medical expenses
      • Lost wages
      • Vocational rehabilitation
      • Loss of property
    • Non-Economic damages: Damages that cannot be measured in money:
      • The injury itself, such as letting someone’s child die in a hot van or allowing a nursing home resident to starve to death.
      • Disability, such as causing a person to go blind or be paralyzed.
      • Pain and suffering such as living with severe, intractable pain caused by an accident.
      • Loss of companionship, such as causing the death of a child’s mother.
      • Mental anguish, such as sexual assault victims having to live a lifetime of emotional trauma.
      • Loss of reputation, such as posting embarrassing photographs on the Internet.
    • Punitive Damages:  Damages awarded if the perpetrator deliberately or willfully intended to harm the victim or was grossly negligent—such as when a surgeon is intoxicated in the operating room. Punitive damages punish the one who caused the injury.  These damages are difficult to prove and are almost never awarded.