Proposed bill would limit liability in 'Legacy Lawsuit' cases

By Kyle Barnett | Mar 21, 2012

BATON ROUGE - A bill introduced in the Louisiana Legislature by Representative Neil Abramson (D - New Orleans) would limit the liability of former owners of land contaminated by oil field production activities.

HB618 would change the civil procedure of Louisiana courts relative to environmental damage suits by providing defendants the right to admit to a lower standard of liability than is currently provided.

The bill would provide limitations on damages stemming from the cases by allowing the admission of liability to be limited solely to the development of a plan to evaluate and remediate any contaminated lands to current regulatory standards.

The name "legacy lawsuits" refers to plaintiffs listing all past owners of the potentially contaminated property in a civil suit. These lawsuits often times result in damages thousands of times more than the properties themselves are worth.

Legacy lawsuits were recently the subject of an Louisiana State University study that found litigation from those cases cost the Louisiana economy an estimated $6.8 billion and around 30,000 jobs over the past eight years.

Melissa Landry, Executive Director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said reform is overdue.

"We need a better process for handling these job-killing legacy lawsuits that will allow the state and our courts to more quickly ferret through frivolous claims and allow those with merit to proceed with greater efficiency and transparency so when there is damage, we can get our land cleaned up more quickly," said Landry.

Opponents of the lawsuits have claimed they are geared more towards enriching the parties who file them and that there is no guarantee damages awarded in the cases will be used to decontaminate former drilling sites.

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