Kyle Barnett Jun. 10, 2013, 5:49pm

GRETNA – The 2013 Louisiana legislative session is getting low marks from legal reformers.

At the conclusion of the legislative session on June 6, Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said although there were some reforms that made it through this year they were relatively insignificant.

“Unfortunately it was another disappointing session when it comes to legal reform,” she said. “Once again they kicked the can down the road when it comes to major issues that we have brought again and again. It is just a lack of interest in the legislature to address these very serious issues.”

Reform bills that passed the legislature included HB 472, sponsored by Rep. Jay Morris (R–Monroe), which is meant to prevent the certification of frivolous class action lawsuits.

Also, Rep. Neil Abramson’s (D–New Orleans) HB 589 passed, which in its original form would have made substantial changes by limiting venues for asbestos and other exposure cases to where the actual damages occurred and permitting expedited jury trials with six jurors instead of the currently required 10 or 12, was amended to only change the limits for jury trial thresholds.

Under the law jury trials do not necessarily have to be granted if the damages in the case are under $50,000, which is the highest jury trial threshold in the country. HB 589 changes the law to make more cases eligible for jury trials by taking into account requests for damages that were initially requested by plaintiff’s attorneys if they exceeded $50,000, but were later reduced.

Overall, Landry said the two bills will not do much to improve Louisiana’s consistently low ranking legal climate.

“Certainly any time we can make incremental positive changes that is a good sign. However, I suspect these bills, 472 and 589, are not the kind of significant reforms that are going to move us off of the Judicial Hellholes Watch List,” she said.

Landry pointed to select bills that were defeated as proof the Louisiana has a long way to go.

HB 481, sponsored by Rep. Ray Garofalo (R–Chalmette), would have provided full disclosure for claims made against asbestos trusts, but was never brought up in the House Civil Law Committee.

“Obviously, we have talked about asbestos reform for several years now, but it seems the legislature has absolutely no interest, no appetite for addressing this issue,” she said.

Also, SB 166, sponsored by Sen. Dan Claitor, would have limited the amount of interest that lawsuit lenders could charge customers on loans given on damages yet to be awarded in a lawsuit.

“SB 166 would have established common sense rules about how lawsuit lenders can operate in Louisiana.  It sought to apply the law evenly to out-of-state lenders so that all companies operating in the state would have to play by the same rules and all consumers would have been protected from predatory lawsuit loans, whether they walked into a building down the street or initiated a loan over the Internet.  Currently, that is not the case," Landry said.

SB 166 passed the Senate without any opposition, but was defeated in the House Commerce Committee by a vote of 11-6.

“I think that there was some confusion about what the bill actually did and that confusion essentially led to distrust,” Landry said. “It was very disappointing.  By capping the interest rates lawsuit lenders can charge and subjecting these companies to licensing requirements under the Louisiana Consumer Credit Law, we could have provided some measure of relief to vulnerable people who can least afford to be taken advantage of, as well as prevented some unnecessary lawsuits.”

Louisiana has consistently been ranked as having one of the worst legal environments amongst all states since the American Tort Reform Association began publishing their annual Judicial Hellholes publication in 2002. In a 2010 survey conducted by the US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, Louisiana courts placed 49th out of 50 for legal fairness, just ahead of West Virginia.

Landry said the 2013 legislative session will likely do nothing to improve Louisiana’s ranking.

“The national perception of Louisiana as a Judicial Hellhole will certainly continue and the real world consequences to that will be fewer businesses coming here and fewer job opportunities for folks who need work. Ultimately, we’ll have higher unemployment,” she said. “We know employers look to expand and place their businesses in states that have fair legal climates. Why on earth would a new business look to come to Louisiana or an existing business to expand here when we have such an awful reputation for our legal climate?”

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