Last-Minute Amendment To Tort Proposal Fails In House

Feb 24, 2017

Rep. Jimmy Gazaway (R-Paragould)

A late attempt to significantly alter a resolution limiting attorneys fees and injury lawsuit awards failed to get approval from the Arkansas House of Representatives Friday. 

Republican Rep. Jimmy Gazaway of Paragould introduced an amendment to Senate Joint Resolution 8, that would set a minimum $1 million award amount for non-economic damages in injury lawsuits. The House rejected the amendment on a 36-48 vote. The House did approve a change, sponsored by Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville to raise the proposal’s lawsuit award caps from $250,000 dollars to $500,000.

Gazaway said he was trying to improve SJR 8, which he said would have big implications for severely injured people seeking remedies in the court system.

“And you’re going to limit that in SJR8, as it’s currently proposed, to $500,000. And I’m going to tell you, that’s not right. That is morally not right,” he said.

Gazaway’s failed amendment also contains provisions that would allow for the sanctioning of attorneys who file frivolous lawsuits. Gazaway said it was an attempt to protect citizens but also address concerns about establishing a more certain legal climate.

“I believe that this issue, of amending our constitution, is of such importance, that we have to take time to deliberate about it, we have to be thoughtful about it, and we have to try to do this in a responsible and reasonable way,” he said.

Gazaway’s amendment also would have removed limitations on damage awards in the event of gross negligence, death, or intentional injury.

Republican Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville was one member who spoke against it.

“The reality is, this is an attempt to gut tort reform…That’s the bottom line. And I’d urge you to vote no,” Collins said.

SJR8, if passed by both bodies of the Legislature, could end up on the 2018 November ballot. The proposed constitutional amendment also includes provisions to transfer court rulemaking authority from the State Supreme Court to the Legislature.