This November, Arkansans face what I believe may be the most consequential election in Arkansas’ history with Issue One, a proposed amendment to our state constitution. The so called, “tort reform” measure needs a truth disclosure, as it would more accurately be described as “The Price of Life Amendment,” “The Special Interest Protection Act,” or simply as the great “bait and switch.” Issue One is dangerous and it’s critical that Arkansans reject this fall.
There’s plenty of reasons that life-long conservatives, like myself, reject Issue One. I’m proud to stand with faith leaders like Jerry Cox of the Arkansas Family Council and pro-life leaders such as Republican Representative Andy Mayberry and pro-life advocate Rose Mimms against Issue One.
This amendment diminishes the sanctity of life in our culture, which is already far too compromised. It places a one-size fits all, arbitrary price tag on life. When someone is killed by a drunk driver, harmed by a bad medical procedure, abused by a daycare worker, neglected in a nursing home or injured by greedy foreign manufacturers, they deserve justice. Currently, each circumstance and life is given the respect of a trial, consideration of the facts and an award can be given that appropriately fits that unique situation.
If Issue One passes, families will not be able to receive more than $500,000 in non-economic damages no matter the situation. Further, Issue One would make some lives automatically more valuable than others. A CEO’s life would be worth more because his lost wages could be awarded under “economic damages.” However, a stay-at-home mom, a child, a college student, the disabled, and the elderly would not be as valuable because “non-economic” damages could never be worth more than $500,000.
Conservatives have long known that the threat of strong punishment is the greatest deterrent for wrong behavior. The threat of a huge settlement should always be in the back of the minds of nursing homes, car manufacturers, contractors and others. If your college age daughter dies in a car crash because of faulty brakes, does it really seem fair that her life is only worth $500,000? Do you think that amount deters a $1 billion dollar industry? Do we think corporate nursing homes will improve their care if Issue One passes and they don’t have to worry about paying victims what they deserve? Unlikely. After passing a similar but less extreme measure in Texas, their nursing homes are now 50th in the nation in care.
Corporate nursing homes and insurance companies are pushing for Issue One so strongly because they have much to gain, while everyday Arkansans have much to lose. Those nursing homes would do well to spend more on patient care and less on campaign contributions, lobbying, and wire transfers to elected officials. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Arkansas insurance companies took in twice the amount of premiums they paid out over a five year period. In fact, Arkansas is the tenth lowest in malpractice insurance cost in the country.
Supporters of Issue One often argue that passing it will help the economy and healthcare and that it will end frivolous lawsuits. In actuality, that’s all bait and switch. Arkansas is enjoying the most successful economy in history with record low unemployment and unprecedented job creation.
Further, since 2010 every state surrounding us has lost rural hospitals, while Arkansas has not. In fact, in October of last year the Arkansas Medical Society ran a story touting a national study that ranks Arkansas in the top five best states to practice medicine in when measuring cost of living, malpractice rates, physician density, residency retention rates, and physician reimbursements. Recently, the American College of Emergency Physicians, released a study showing that Arkansas ER doctors make 12% more than the national average; averaging an annual salary of $397,000.
Proponents often say that it will stop greedy lawyers and frivolous lawsuits. Sadly, Issue One doesn’t even have the words “frivolous lawsuits” in it. It doesn’t punish lawyers who file baseless suits or reign in bad judges. Instead, it focuses on limiting what Arkansans can get when they’re wronged and on moving the rule making for court proceedings to the legislative branch, where special interest influence is the strongest and corruption an all too familiar occurrence. They don’t tell you that Arkansans are some of the most conservative jurists in the nation. The average jury award in Arkansas is $3,758 and only .05% of jury awards exceed $1 million.
If we can trust Arkansas juries to decide death penalty cases, we can trust them to determine how much to award a family when tragedy strikes.
While special interest and out-of-state commentators advise Arkansans to support Issue One, it seems that Arkansas voters already understand it doesn’t pass the smell test. A recent Talk Business poll shows Arkansans opposing the amendment nearly 2-1. That’s a good sign for good old fashioned common sense. I pray it withstands the political onslaught and lasts through election day.
Editor’s note: Chad Gallagher is the founder of Legacy Consulting, a conservative campaign strategist and an advisor to former Gov. Mike Huckabee. He lobbies on behalf of the Arkansas Family Council and the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association. The opinions expressed are those of the author.