Civil litigation reform bills could pass this session, advocate says

Sarah Zavala Mar. 23, 2012, 7:27am


BATON ROUGE - Three bills wait to be called in the Louisiana legislature that would change the way latent disease claims are handled in the courts.

According to a civil litigation reform advocate, the proposals would drastically help the clogged court system sift through frivolous claims and get to "legitimate" ones.

Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, believes the proposals which stalled last session have a good chance of passing this term.

- House Bill 438 would require certain information be included in petitions concerning latent diseases.

- House Bill 477 would require a plaintiff, in claims related to asbestos or silica exposure, to disclose all claims against a trust or fund at least 180 days before the trial.

- House Bill 440 would require proper venue in cases concerning latent diseases to be established in a parish where the plaintiff's substantial exposure occurred.

The package of bills currently waits to be called in the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure.

Some of the basic information HB 438 would ask for is the name of each defendant, time period, location, and types of products for each alleged exposure. The bill also says that anyone 70 years or older with a medical condition keeping them from living beyond six months can be considered to have exigent circumstances.

"It's very straight forward. It's very simple," Landry said, adding that many other states already require this information.

Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, chief sponsor of the three bills, did not respond to calls for comment throughout the week.

HB 440 and 477 aim to address two issues in Louisiana's current law; filing suit for latent disease exposure in any jurisdiction and asbestos claimants double dipping and recovering twice for the same injury.

Landry said that HB 440 would keep attorneys from shopping around the court system.

"It will ensure that those really injured will have their day in court. At the end of the day, I think that is all that everyone wants," she said. "To operate fairly and equitably and helps those who genuinely need the help."

Another bill waiting to be called in the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure is House Bill 343, which would reduce a threshold for having a jury hear a case, rather than just a judge, from a $50,000 damage claim to $5,000.

HB 343 is sponsored by Rep. Anthony Ligi, R-Metairie.

Multiple calls to Rep. Ligi were not returned.

"Our threshold is more than 28 times the national average," Landry said, adding that lowering it would get more parties involved.

The current threshold is the highest in the nation.

"Lowering the threshold from this outrageous, excessively high thousand dollar threshold to one that is much more in line with what many other states across the country are doing...will at least give citizens the choice of having their case heard before a judge or jury," Landry said.

In the 1990s the threshold was raised from $20,000 to $50,000.

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