Medical malpractice lawsuits were hampered when Arkansas passed a tort reform law in 2003. But in a boon for victims of malpractice, the state Supreme Court has gradually declared many parts of that law unconstitutional.
In one recent decision, the Supreme Court overturned the requirement that an expert witness must practice in the same field as the doctor on trial. The Court said that the state legislature does not have the authority to legislate such a requirement, ruling that the credentials and credibility of an expert witness is a procedural matter reserved to the courts, not the legislature. Similarly, the Supreme Court found that the legislative requirement that an “affidavit of merit” be filed within 30 days of the filing of a malpractice lawsuit was unconstitutional because the law encroached on the courts’ authority to set the rules for filing lawsuits.
In December of 2010, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous 7-0 decision, also ruled that the law limiting punitive damages (damages intended to punish or deter the defendant and others from engaging in conduct similar to that which formed the basis of the lawsuit) to a ceiling of $1 million was unconstitutional. In that case, the Court upheld a lower court’s verdict awarding Arkansas rice farmers $42 million in punitive damages from Bayer Crop Sciences for contaminating their rice crop. The Court said that the legislature did not have the authority to limit punitive damages outside the employment context.
The Supreme Court decisions rolling back the tort reform law of a decade ago is good news for victims of medical malpractice. These decisions might help you to recover the damages to which you are entitled. If you or a loved one is a victim of medical malpractice, you need an experienced attorney who will fight for your rights.