Tort Reform Debate Sparks Passion

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A debate raged at the Capitol Thursday over proposed limits to jury awards in lawsuits.

To drive home his opposition, one senator told the story of a contractor that failed to make repairs to a bathroom and a soldier who leaned against a metal siding. 

"The private was electrocuted and killed while they sat on the ground," explained St. Sen. Will Bond, D-Little Rock. "Under this bill, you're saying his life is worth $250,000."

On the other side, a senator spoke about rural hospitals declining to offer care in high risk fields out a fear of lawsuits.

"You know what's pro-life to me... not having to take my wife and put her in a car and drive her a county over because of our toxic [legal] climate," 

The constitutional amendment places limits on punitive and non economic damages in lawsuits and caps attorney fees.
The issue often splits across party lines with Republicans supporting limits and Democrats opposing. But it was a Republican making one of the most impassioned speeches against the measure.

"It's socialism folks," said St. Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock. "That is what socialism is when you set prices from the government telling individual parties what they can contract for."

After debate, the Senate voted to approve the measure with the bill sponsor successfully arguing that frivolous lawsuits hamper the state's economy.

"We currently have a legal climate that does not allow businesses and investments to come into our state," said St. Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View.

The amendment also gives lawmakers the power to set court rules. Some argue the rules are too complex for the legislature to decipher. Others believe it's nothing different from what lawmakers are currently doing on complicated issues.
The resolution now heads to the state house. If it's approved by lawmakers, voters will be asked to decide the issue in the next election.

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