Mutual Pushes For Tort Reform

As Arkansas Mutual Insurance Co. of Little Rock gains traction, one of its founders' goals is to gain a legislative voice and push for reform of tort laws.

"We can voice what impacts health care in the state of Arkansas," said Tom Robinson, the firm's director of physician relations and an emergency physician. "Then our goal is to get tort reform back. It was totally taken away from us."

Robinson referred to Act 649 of 2003, which passed after $63 million of punitive damages were awarded in a wrongful death case in Mena. It significantly overhauled tort laws; for example, a $1 million cap was placed on punitive damages. Since 2003, five portions of the Act have been stricken down, including the punitive cap. Most recently, the "expert clause," which prohibited doctors of specialties other than the defendant to testify in liability cases, was revoked in early 2012.

"We want that expert witness clause back," said Corey Little, CEO of Arkansas Mutual. "If Tom has a case come up against him, he could have a family practitioner from Michigan flown down to testify against what he did."

"Or I could testify against a neurosurgeon," Robinson added.

The Arkansas Insurance Department cautioned against further changes to Act 649 in a report it released this August.

"Repeal of all or a portion of Act 649 of 2003 in a future legislative session may make Arkansas less attractive to those remaining companies providing medical malpractice coverage to Arkansas' medical community," the report said. "Arkansas is beginning to see more interest by insurers in the market; however, two Supreme Court cases in the last year struck down significant parts of this Act. It remains to be seen whether this will have any significant effect on the medical malpractice market or malpractice insurance rates in Arkansas."