- Associated Press - Thursday, September 1, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Opponents of an effort to limit damage awards in medical lawsuits asked the Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday to block votes from being counted - the second legal challenge against the ballot measure this week.

The Committee to Protect Arkansas Families accused supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment of not following restrictions on paid canvassers and questioned the validity of thousands of signatures submitted for the measure. The complaint also says the proposed ballot title is misleading to voters.

The proposal, if approved by voters, would allow the Legislature to cap non-economic damages awarded for medical injury against health care providers, with a minimum cap of $250,000. The proposal would also put a limit on the contingency fees attorneys could receive in medical injury cases.

“Any attempt by a group to take away the constitutional freedoms of Arkansans should be closely examined,” retired Circuit Judge Marion Humphrey, a plaintiff in the complaint, said in a statement released by the group. “It is important that our laws be followed, and I have concerns about the misleading nature of the ballot title, as well as, an apparent failure to properly and timely inform the secretary of state of its paid canvassers.”

A committee formed by the Arkansas Bar Association earlier this week filed a separate challenge to the amendment that also claimed the proposed ballot title was misleading and didn’t inform voters of its impact.

Supporters of the proposed amendment, including nursing home operators, say the proposal is needed to control health care costs. The group behind the measure called the complaint a “desperate” attempt to prevent voters from taking up the proposal.

“We followed all the rules and took the proper legal paths to get the amendment on the ballot,” Chase Dugger, executive director of Health Care Access for Arkansans, said in an email. “Much like the lawsuits they file against doctors and hospitals, these lawyers sue on every issue they can think of, hoping anything will stick and pay off for them.”

The complaint filed Thursday accused the measure’s sponsors of not providing proof that the workers it had hired to gathered signatures for the proposal had passed criminal background checks. The complaint also claims that thousands of the signatures that were submitted are suspect because, among other reasons, they were dated after the petition had been notarized or didn’t include enough information about those who signed.

The filing also makes similar arguments that the ABA has made about the proposal, saying the measure doesn’t explain to voters that the cap set by the Legislature would supersede a jury’s ability to award damages. It also argues that the ballot title doesn’t explain or define the term non-economic damages.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo



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