LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas legislators on Wednesday referred to the November 2018 ballot a proposed constitutional amendment to limit damages in civil suits and lawyers’ fees and give the Legislature the power to set court rules.
In a voice vote, the Senate concurred with a House amendment to Senate Joint Resolution 8 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain Home. The vote was the final hurdle for the measure to be referred to the ballot.
If approved by voters, SJR 8 would cap damages in civil suits for harm that cannot be measured in money, such as pain and suffering or death, at $500,000 and would cap punitive damages at $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages.
It also would cap attorneys’ contingency fees at one-third of the net amount recovered by a client and give the Legislature authority to change, repeal or create court rules with a three-fifths vote in each chamber.
A 2003 law that imposed limits on civil suits has been dismantled by a series of Arkansas Supreme Court rulings that held various provisions to be unconstitutional because they exceeded the authority of the legislative branch.
The Legislature can refer up to three constitutional amendments to the ballot during each regular session in an odd-numbered year.
The governor’s signature is not required for the proposal, but J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, said Wednesday that Hutchinson supports the measure.
Hutchinson raised concerns about the original version of the resolution but supported it after it was amended in the House to raise the damages cap from $250,000 to $500,000.