As one of my last responsibilities serving Arkansans as the President of the Arkansas Trial Lawyer’s Association was working at the state capitol during the 2019 legislative session. I am happy to report a successful session defending the rights of injured Arkansans to seek justice against negligent actors and wrongdoers. Each legislative session, our legislature may refer out three proposed constitutional amendments to the voters. You may remember this is how Issue 1, the previous attempt at sweeping tort reform, was referred to the voters in 2017 before being removed from the ballot despite being widely unpopular in the polls and facing defeat at the ballot box. The same group of legislators tried again with another sweeping tort reform amendment. That provision (also called SJR8, the same bill number as in 2017) failed to gain any traction and never reached a vote in any committee.
However, this was not the only attempt at limiting the rights of injured Arkansans to seek justice. Here are a few bills that were defeated in the session:
HB 1955. The proposed workers compensation “made whole” bill. This bill, known colloquially as the “injured worker indentured servant act,” would have thrown out the doctrine of made whole in workers compensation cases. It would have placed the corporation BEFORE the injured worker if a settlement or verdict was returned in the injured worker’s favor. This was defeated twice in committee before it was rushed out in a quick and hurried vote when Rep. John Payton (R) declared “he was hungry.” That vote was short lived, because due to yeoman’s work by our lobby team, the bill was trounced on the House floor with only 35 yeas. It needed 67 to pass. You can read more about HB 1955 below.
In addition to HB 1955, a “made whole” bill that would have applied to a wider swath of cases, including auto med pay, was filed in the Senate as SB 566. However, after legislators on Senate Insurance and Commerce learned how much the bill would harm Arkansans, it never gained traction and was never brought to a vote.
SB 543, which would have changed the Uniform Contribution Among Tortfeasors Act, passed in the Senate, but went nowhere in the House and died in House Judiciary upon adjournment sine die. Likewise, SB 544, which would have done away with the collateral source rule, never gained traction in either chamber and died upon adjournment.
While it was a successful session for Arkansas consumers, vigilance is key. There will be further attempts at limiting rights in the future that must be addressed and defeated. Thanks to all friends and clients of the firm who reached out to legislators to communicate their opposition to these harmful bills. Your contributions are key and greatly appreciated.