Dangerous Louisiana contingency fee bill heads to the House

Michelle Massey Jun. 14, 2010, 2:58am


Last week the Louisiana Senate passed a bill that could unleash hordes of personal injury lawyers to investigate and harass businesses and individuals across the state in the hopes of securing lucrative settlements for themselves.

This harmful and unnecessary legislation is now headed to the House Civil Law committee and will be heard June 14 at 10 a.m.

SB 731, by Senate President Joel Chaisson (D-Destrehan), would authorize the Attorney General (AG) to hire trial lawyers on a contingency fee basis. That means personal injury lawyers would be allowed to sue on behalf of the state and take home at least 25 percent of the state's cash award.

Chaisson and AG Buddy Caldwell are using the BP oil spill disaster to "justify" the use of contingency fee lawyers, but there is absolutely NO need for these contracts.

Under current law, the attorney general already has the ability to hire private attorneys and pay them a scheduled hourly rate, not a percentage of the "take." That's the way it should be, and that's what will put the most compensation into state coffers rather than personal injury lawyers' pockets.

The last time the Louisiana attorney general got involved in a major case involving contingency fees, during the tobacco settlements in the 1990's, a handful of politically connected lawyers ended up splitting more than $500 million dollars. That worked out to be more than $6,500 per hour for each attorney working on the case!

That could hardly be considered as "reasonable attorneys' fees," and when it comes the massive clean up and restoration effort that's going to be needed to recover from the BP oil spill, the state simply can't afford to waste one single dollar.

The bottom line is the attorney general doesn't need to award contingency fees to get the experts he needs to litigate the state's case against BP. Governor Bobby Jindal has already allocated $5 million to the AG's office for this purpose, and Caldwell recently testified that his office has already assembled one of the most highly qualified litigation teams in the country, including hiring one of the best oil and gas experts in the United States.

If the attorney general already has access to funding and expert attorneys, why should the state give away 25 percent of its award to anyone on contingency fee?

The truth is, SB 731 is a dangerous bill with long-term implications that reach far beyond the disaster on the Gulf Coast.

The plaintiffs' bar has tried to push this measure in the Louisiana legislature for years, and now they are using the oil spill as a convenient excuse and trying to capitalize on the tragedy.

That's just wrong.

Melissa Landry is Executive Director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch. LLAW is a non-partisan, non-profit, citizen watchdog group dedicated to stopping lawsuit abuse that hurts Louisiana families and threatens our jobs and health care. Learn more at www.LLAW.org or follow us on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/ReformLouisiana.

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