Governor Hutchinson Neutral On Medical Damages Cap Ballot Issue - For Now

Sep 7, 2016

(file photo) Gov. Asa Hutchinson and reporters look at a draft of legislation to make changes to Medicaid.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Governor Asa Hutchinson is staying neutral for now but says he’ll likely reveal his position on a ballot issue to limit damages awarded in medical injury lawsuits before the election. 

Hutchinson was asked for an update on his stance Wednesday after an event at Hall High School in Little Rock.

“I probably will just stay neutral on it. I’ve got my personal opinions on it, but I don’t anticipate any time soon making an announcement on that amendment four,” said the governor. “I’m going to let the debate continue on that because there’s a number of other amendments on the ballot that I will be putting more of my energy into.”

If approved by voters in November, the measure would give the legislature authority to set a medical damages cap with a minimum of $250,000. Currently juries help determine the amount awarded to victims of medical malpractice for non-economic and punitive damages. It also limits plaintiffs, but not defendants, attorney fees.

The Republican governor is generally in favor of tort reform and said the legislature is a “good place” for the discussion on limits to medical damages to occur.

“The discretion is in the legislature and it really shifts the power to them. To me that’s a good place for the debate to engage,” said Hutchinson.

Asked by a reporter if anything in the proposal gives him pause, the governor responded in the negative three times, “no, no, no.” Hutchinson went on to say he was initially concerned with the $250,000 minimum cap because he thought it was a mandatory cap, not subject to further legislative action. But after reading the amendment he said he no longer has the reservation.

While the governor had some friendly things to say about the Amendment to Limit Non-Economic and Punitive Damages in Civil Medical Care Cases, Arkansans will have to wait a while to know his full assessment.

“I’ll probably tell people how I want to vote on it, but not anytime soon,” said Hutchinson. “I just want the debate to continue on that amendment without my involvement in it.”

The Arkansas Bar Association has formed a group, Fairness For Arkansans, in opposition to the amendment. The group has filed a lawsuit claiming thousands of signatures for ballot placement were improperly collected. It is one of several suits challenging a range of ballot issues on the ballot this fall.