Trial Lawyers Roll Out Poll Results, May Lead Tort Reform Effort

by Roby Brock ( 25 views 

Matt Hass, executive director for the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association, says his group may roll out its own version of a tort reform amendment.

“We’re not going to sit on our heels and idly watch this happen,” Hass said in a Talk Business Arkansas webcast interview.

Equipped with new polling data conducted for its members, Hass said his survey shows the general public is supportive of consumers over businesses and wants more regulation of insurance companies.

The poll could lead to ATLA pushing its own version of a tort reform ballot initiative in 2014 after a contentious legislative session ended with no ballot referral on the subject matter after the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down a law last year.

“We’re in discussions about that right now. We’ve been focus grouping the issue for a couple of years and have just started polling. I think we’ll go back and focus a little bit more and see where the field leads us,” Hass said. “It’s obviously going to be a very crowded election year with an AG’s race, a Governor’s race, a U.S. Senate race, and a number of constitutional amendments.”

The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce is polling its membership on the issue of a citizen-led initiative for a tort reform measure, also referred to as civil justice reform. The chamber and ATLA have major differences in their preference for how a constitutional measure would be structured, including caps on damages and control of writing civil procedures.

Last year, the state’s highest court struck down provisions of a nearly ten-year old tort reform law leading to this year’s legislative struggle to refer a new amendment, which ended unsuccessfully.

The poll of 633 registered voters was conducted on May 30, 2013 by Diamond State Consulting Group, which traditionally works with Republican candidates and causes. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.9%.

Some survey results include:

Q. Some people say that lawsuits harm businesses and job creation because trial lawyers file frivolous law suits. Other people say that lawsuits allow consumers to protect themselves from corporations that harm them and that their constitutional right to trial by jury should be protected. Which is closer to your view?

26.5% – Lawsuits harm businesses
45.1% – Lawsuits protect consumers
28.3% – Unsure

Q. Some people say that regulating insurance companies hinders competition and leads to higher insurance premiums for consumers. Other people say that insurance companies put profits before their policy holders and that voters should be able to approve or deny changes in insurance premiums Which is closer to your view?

60.2% – Regulate rates
19.5% – Rates set by the market
20.3% – Unsure

Hass said that the poll results highlight constitutionally conservative positions, not necessarily “conservative Republican” or “liberally Democratic” takes.

“I think one of things we found out between our focus groups and the session is that tort reform for a long time has been an issue tied to the Republican Party. It may be Republican, but it’s not conservative. The true conservatives understand that protecting the Constitution is what our forefathers wrote in the Declaration of Independence,” Hass said, in reference to the seventh amendment which allows for jury trials.

Other poll results include:

  • 68% think illegal immigrants hurt the economy
  • 20% think illegal immigrants help the economy
  • 59% think businesses hiring illegal immigrants should be punished
  • 28% think businesses hiring illegal immigrants should not be punished
  • 32% oppose raising the minimum wage to $8.25 per hour
  • 60% support raising the minimum wage to $8.25 per hour

Hass said some of the questions included in this recently released poll were added to provide insight for some of its coalition supporters, such as labor unions and some farmers.

You can access the released portion of the ATLA poll at this link.   You can watch a video interview with ATLA’s Matt Hass below.