Report from Louisiana: Why no tort reform?

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – You can not drive down any highway in Louisiana without being inundated with billboards encouraging you to sue someone. On I-20 heading into Texas you see a lot of “Truck Wreck?” billboards and as you go down south, along I-49 you see the same but also oil field accident billboards and maritime accident billboards.

Trial lawyers are in high cotton in Louisiana.

We need tort reform in the worst way. We pay the second highest auto insurance rates in the nation and trust me, it is crippling.

The litigation-happy environment in Louisiana is also crippling business and growth.

One series of billboards is particularly offensive to me in that they quote Bible verses (Matthew 5:5-9, for example), again, encouraging one to sue.

Even still, tort reform doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s agenda in the state legislature. Why is that? One answer: John Bel Edwards, himself a trial lawyer and with many cronies who are trial lawyers who have donated heavily to his war chest.

Attempts to introduce tort reform have gone nowhere. One example:

Last year, State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, a Slidell Republican, introduced a bill ridding the state of the seat belt gag law. Her bill would allow as evidence the role not wearing a seat belt played in the litigant’s injuries. The bill never made it to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk. Then Senate President and Republican in name only John Alario stacked the Senate Judiciary Committee with trial lawyers guaranteeing tort reform legislation died in committee. This saved Edwards the embarrassment of having to veto a bill that would have lowered insurance premiums for so many.

Good old John Alario who has been in control of the legislature for longer than some of you have been alive is retiring now, so will things change?

Dan Fagan from The Advocate:

It’s clear personal injury lawyers have more clout than the rest of us with those running our state. But it’s unfair to put this all on Edwards. The governor could very well bend to public pressure to lower insurance premiums and sign a tort reform bill if one were ever to make it to his desk. Favoring his big-money attorney donors over Louisiana motorists doesn’t go well with his campaign slogan, “people over politics.” But the Republican-controlled legislature hasn’t sent Edwards any tort reform legislation. Alario is gone. Republicans are running out of excuses…. In the House, Republican Clay Schexnayder has cut a deal with Edwards and Democrats to win his speakership. Did he promise to keep tort reform legislation off the governor’s desk? If tort reform doesn’t make it to the governor this year, we’ll know why. Enough Republicans like things just the way they are. High insurance premiums and all.

The regular legislative session convenes in March.

Meanwhile, we will have to put up with these absurd billboards for a while longer.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

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