The overhaul of Arkansas’ judicial system by nursing home lobbyists and insurance groups ran into a surprising obstacle. A conservative Christian group has begun rallying churches and abortion opponents against the measure, saying that limiting damage awards in lawsuits sets an arbitrary value on human life, contrary to anti-abortion beliefs, and conflicts with biblical principles of justice and helping the poor.
The conservative Family Council Action Committee argues that putting a cap on other damages devalues the lives of those with no income, such as the elderly and stay-at-home parents, who would receive little compensation for pain and suffering. The religious argument also could offer tort reform opponents in other states a new weapon for fighting limits. Proponents of the measure are stunned by the opposition. Arkansas’ measure is an effort by an array of pro-business groups, including the state chamber of commerce, to reinstate unfair and arbitrary legal caps that have been chipped away over the years by court rulings.
The amendment would cap damages for noneconomic losses, such as pain and psychological distress, to $500,000 and punitive damages to $500,000 or three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded, whichever is higher. It also would cap attorney contingency fees at one third of the net amount recovered. The proposal doesn’t cap economic damages, which go toward verifiable losses such as medical expenses as well as past and future wages.
The Family Council is organizing meetings with church leaders to call for the measure’s rejection. Pastors were handed informational booklets emblazoned with the words “Don’t Put A Price Tag On Human Life.” Flyers left on each table offered attendees inserts for their church bulletins.
“The Bible is full of references to justice, and (the proposal) creates an environment where the powerful can tip the scales of justice against everybody else, but especially the poor,” Jerry Cox, the Family Council’s head, said at a recent breakfast meeting with pastors.
Rose Mimms, the head of Arkansas Right to Life, also spoke out against the measure, writing in a column on the conservative website townhall.com that it “erodes our own pro-life efforts” in the state.
Stephen Harrison, who pastors the nondenominational Family Church in Pine Bluff, said, “I don’t want to vote for something that will devalue human life or put a price tag on what a life is worth.”