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RANDY ZOOK: Vote for reform, put a stop to jackpot justice

by Randy Zook Special to the Democrat-Gazette | September 27, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Over the past several months, opponents of common-sense legal reform in Arkansas have been misinforming and misleading voters at a dizzying rate.

Opponents have argued that passage of Issue 1 would eliminate the right to trial by jury and would let the Legislature decide how much compensation someone could receive in an injury case. These false assertions are nothing more than a calculated campaign of fear and hyperbole designed to scare voters into voting against their own interests. The truth is that Issue 1 preserves the right to a jury trial and allows Arkansans to keep more of their award or settlement by limiting what their lawyer can take to no more than 33 percent. Furthermore, Issue 1 makes clear that victims and families can receive unlimited damages for lost wages, medical bills and loss of property.

Today, trial lawyers are incentivized to pursue "jackpot justice" verdicts by exploiting injury victims and their families in the pursuit of million-dollar paydays and taking as much as 50 percent of a settlement or award. Without limits on the amount of an award trial lawyers can receive, our current system results in the actual victims receiving less and less. It also incentivizes lawyers to file more and more cases, harming our economy by impacting business recruitment and retention and limiting access to quality medical care.

The impact that frivolous lawsuits have can be staggering to anyone who operates a business. According to national data by the American Medical Association, it costs approximately $140,000 to successfully defend against a malpractice claim. Even in cases when claims are ultimately dropped, businesses on average incur legal bills totaling $28,000. That's a hefty price tag for any business, but for small businesses in particular it could be the difference between being in the black and being in the red.

In addition to impacting businesses directly, our legal environment also impacts job recruitment, as businesses of all sizes actively consider a state's lawsuit environment when deciding where to invest capital to grow jobs. States like Texas, Ohio, and Mississippi have seen dramatic decreases in litigation following their tort-reform efforts, as well as economic growth in the form of hundreds of thousands of jobs and major economic development projects.

Issue 1 is also critical to ensuring that Arkansas has a robust and high quality health-care system.

Today, medical services are in jeopardy, especially in rural areas, due to frivolous malpractice claims that drive costs up for doctors and drive them out of Arkansas. Arkansas ranks 48th in the nation for infant deaths and 44th for maternal deaths, and expecting mothers often face long drives due to shortages of obstetric care. Tort reform is part of the solution, as it will make Arkansas a more attractive place for doctors to practice, ultimately benefiting patients by increasing both quality and quantity of care. Tort reform has been identified by the American College of Emergency Physicians as an important step "to help combat workforce shortages and improve overall access to emergency care."

Opponents to Issue 1 are running a campaign based on fear, trying to convince voters that the sky will fall on Nov. 6 if Issue 1 passes. In reality, Issue 1 simply enacts reforms in Arkansas that have been passed in numerous other states across the country--19 of which have some form of limit on attorney's fees, and 33 with caps on excessive jury awards.

What the trial-lawyer opponents to Issue 1 are really concerned about is the impact that this amendment will have on their pocketbooks. On Nov. 6 we have a chance to put a stop to greedy jackpot justice and put Arkansas businesses and Arkansas people first.

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Randy Zook is the president and CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas.

Editorial on 09/27/2018

Print Headline: Vote for reform

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