Compromise on legacy lawsuit issue uncertain

Kyle Barnett Mar. 23, 2012, 11:50am


BATON ROUGE -- At the spring session heats up, state legislators, energy industry officials and trial lawyers are reportedly not any closer to a compromise on "legacy" lawsuit reform.

The lawsuits refer to landowners who bought polluted properties that were not cleaned up by the energy industry after sometimes decades of drilling activities. Opponents of the lawsuits say landowners sometimes file the suits even if drilling activities took place, but there is no discernible pollution.

Sixteen bills in the house and senate meant to reform legacy lawsuits were introduced when the session began earlier this month. Some of those bills were supported by energy industry officials and interest groups and other have been linked to landowners, trial attorneys and environmentalists. And, a few are reportedly meant to be adaptable via amendment into a compromise between opposing views.

"I think that it is everyone's hope that a compromise is reached that would help to rout out the suits that have absolutely no merit and improve the system so that it would operate more efficiently, balance all the interests and hopefully get our land cleaned up more quickly," said Melissa Landry of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch.

Don Briggs, president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association said his group supports four of the bills, including those that would limit the liability of defendants in remediation cases.

"It allows the industry to accept responsibility for the regulatory cleanup and it limits their liability for the private claims," he said.

"What we are saying is we want to be able to admit responsibility for the regulatory cleanup, but it doesn't mean we're admitting responsibility or liability for the private claims. That is a whole separate issue."

New Orleans political consultant Cheron Brylski, who works on behalf of the trial lawyer bar, says any bill that would change the way the courts work is unacceptable.

"It's my understanding that both sides are still rather far apart and our concern is that what big oil and gas seems to want is to control the judiciary in this process and we just find that unacceptable," Brylski said.

"No one is supposed to control the judiciary. They are supposed to be impartial and independent."

All legislation will have to be wrapped up before adjournment of the legislature on June 4.

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