Family Council Action Committee, a conservative Christian group, has begun rallying church leaders against a tort reform measure on the ballot attempting to limit damages awarded in lawsuit payouts, saying that placing caps on payouts undermines the value of human life and conflicts with the basic Christian principle of justice. The Council believes the measure is an indication that a person’s life is determined by his or her paycheck at the time of a tragedy.
Republication Representative Bob Ballinger, one of the measure’s sponsors, said, the Council’s opposition to lawsuit caps is detrimental. “The biggest problem is not the damage [the opposition causes to the proposal]. The biggest hurdle is the damage to the pro-life cause.”
Proponents mainly include pro-business groups hoping to reinstate legal caps on lawsuits, so they will be able to reasonably satisfy a court’s decision. The proposal would cap damages for pain and psychological distress, along with other non-financial losses, at $500,000 and punitive damages would be capped at $500,000 or three times the amount of awarded compensatory damages (whichever is greater). Attorney fees would be limited to one-third of the net amount. Economic damages would remain uncapped, the amounts awarded to be left up to the court’s discretion.
The Family Council is organizing meetings with church leaders to support its position and handing out flyers stating, “Don’t Put A Price Tag On Human Life.” Inserts have been given to leaders to include with their 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 meeting. Rose Mimms, the head of Arkansas Right to Life, also spoke out against reform, stating it “erodes our own pro-life efforts” in the state.
Trial attorneys have been the leading opponents of the proposal, and some are suggesting that The Family Council’s position could be stemming from $150,000 in donations it received from a Little Rock law firm. “They have sold their brand to trial lawyers to be able to promote this issue,” said Carl Vogelpohl, the campaign manager for Arkansans for Jobs and Justice who is a supporter. Cox said the donation wasn’t a factor.
Republication Representative Marcus Richmond wasn’t pleased by the use of churches to rally alongside opponents. “When you go to church and you hear somebody speak up against something, generally, you’re thinking, ‘Well, I’m getting a 100 percent clear picture,’” he said.
Stephen Harrison, a pastor of the nondenominational Family Church in Pine Bluff, indicated he would be taking some time to review the fine print before making a decision. “I don’t want to vote for something that will devalue human life or put a price tag on what a life is worth.”
Retired Judge Marion Humphrey argues that the proposal amounts to logrolling or putting four separate proposals in a single amendment contrary to the state Constitutional mandate for single-issue proposals. Oral arguments are scheduled to begin Aug. 30 in Pulaski County.