Yesterday the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette highlighted reports showing Arkansas’ nursing homes rank higher in medication errors than those in surrounding states.
Data from the federal government indicates significant medication errors are discovered on average in one of every five of the state’s nursing homes — with other errors possibly going undiscovered.
The article focused on Ms. Linda Cooper, who died suddenly in a Conway nursing home after a nurse mistakenly gave her another resident’s high-dose narcotics.
The Cooper family subsequently sued the facility and settled out of court. The newspaper writes,
The Cooper family’s lawsuit is the type that would be hampered by the passage of a constitutional amendment on tort reform that’s set to go before Arkansas voters on next year’s November ballot. The measure would cap punitive and noneconomic damages, as well as limit attorney’s contingency fees to one-third of the net amount awarded their client.
Tort reform has long been championed by the nursing home industry, and its staunchest opposition has come from plaintiffs’ attorneys.
A similar measure was to appear on the 2016 ballot until the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the ballot title contained unclear terms.
In support of that measure, Reliance Health Care in 2016 gave $173,140 to Health Care Access for Arkansans, a ballot question committee formed to advocate for the tort reform amendment’s passage.
The Arkansas Health Care Association, which receives monthly dues from nursing homes in the state, contributed $585,677 to the tort reform effort.
The proposed constitutional amendment the newspaper mentions is SJR 8. The Arkansas Legislature decided to refer SJR 8 to voters last spring.
Under current law, a jury hearing a personal-injury lawsuit reviews evidence, examines the facts, and awards damages to the injured party based on what they determine is appropriate. Some people believe juries award victims too much money, so SJR 8 restricts how much juries can award.
SJR 8 limits attorney’s fees in personal-injury lawsuits and lets the Arkansas Legislature cap noneconomic damages at half a million dollars for an injury or death. Under current law, there are no limits; juries award damages on a case-by-case basis.
SJR 8 also lets lawmakers make rules about evidence that can be used in personal-injury lawsuits.
Family Council has never opposed responsible lawsuit reforms. As far back as 2003, we did not oppose general malpractice reform measures passed by the legislature. That same year, however, we did oppose a proposal that could have given an unfair advantage to nursing homes over good care for residents.
Some nursing home owners simply don’t want to spend the money necessary to provide quality care. They cut staff, reduce services, compromise care, and let people suffer. Most families have a story about a loved one who was neglected or mistreated in a nursing home. The fear of a lawsuit may be all that keeps some nursing homes in line. SJR 8 removes that threat. If that goes away, our elderly nursing home residents will suffer even more.
The following press release is from Family Council Action Committee.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, October 13, 2016
On Thursday the Arkansas Supreme Court disqualified ballot proposals, Issue 4 dealing with limits on damages in medical injury lawsuits and Issue 5, which opens three casinos in Arkansas, from the November ballot.
Family Council Action Committee Executive Director Jerry Cox released a statement, saying, “In my opinion, both of these measures were seriously flawed and needed to be removed from the ballot. While I support general medical malpractice reforms for doctors, Issue 4 could have made it possible for some nursing homes to neglect residents without facing sufficient consequences. Issue 5 would have brought casinos to three counties in Arkansas, and it would have written a specific corporation from Missouri into our state’s constitution. I am glad to see the Arkansas Supreme Court has disqualified these proposals.”
Cox said he also believes the court should have ruled against the two marijuana ballot proposals as well in order to be consistent with this ruling. “The Arkansas Supreme Court disqualified Issues 4 and 5 in part because they failed to define some of their key terms in the proposals. Marijuana Issues 6 and 7 fail to define some of their key terms as well, but the court left those proposals on the ballot. The court was right to disqualify Issues 4 and 5, but by the same standard, the court should have disqualified the two marijuana measures as well.”
Family Council Action Committee is a conservative 501(c)(4) organization based in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Photo Credit: By Brian Turner (Flickr: My Trusty Gavel) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons