This week, the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East has filed suit against 97 oil and gas companies seeking payment from them alleging that they are putting the New Orleans area at a greater risk of flooding by contributing to coastal erosion. This suit, like the 300 legacy lawsuits with over 1500 companies that have been going on for 10 years now against oil and gas, are simply extortion via the legal system.
Governor Jindal is to be commended for calling these lawsuits what they really are. This week he said, “This is nothing but a windfall for a handful of trial lawyers. It boils down to trial lawyers who see dollar signs in their future and who are taking advantage of people who want to restore Louisiana’s coast. These trial lawyers are taking this action at the expense of our coast and thousands of hardworking Louisianians who help fuel America by working in the energy industry.”
This is a real opportunity for Governor Jindal to heed the calls he has been receiving for the past six years to bring transformative tort reform and an abrupt end to the legacy lawsuit abuse that has been slowly destroying our industry since 2003, and now this absurd suit filed by the flood board. We do not need one-liners, talking points and sound bites. We need substantive tort reform for the state of Louisiana.
Let us not be deceived. These are the same trial lawyers that have been filing legacy lawsuits for years. This suit, filed by the flood board, is more of the same. It is a frivolous money grab on one of the largest employing industries in the state. As a reminder, while the rest of the country has been experiencing the most dramatic economic recession since the Great Depression, the oil and gas industry has been providing Louisiana with good paying jobs and a stable economy.
While the trial lawyers face no penalty for filing frivolous lawsuits that seek to extort money and destroy an industry, oil and gas companies are forced to spend millions upon millions of dollars defending themselves from court sanctioned extortion. And while there is a frivolous lawsuit statute that is supposed to protect citizens from these very types of suits, it is rarely pursued, and even less often is a judgment rendered against any attorney. It is time for real tort reform. You file junk lawsuits and you get penalized. This is not just an oil and gas issue, but an issue that impacts every business, municipality and individual in the state. Texas made tort reform happen. Why not Louisiana?
If we are to be a competitive state that seeks to retain business as well as bring new commerce to our state, then the legal climate must change. The oil and gas industry is experiencing the lowest drilling activity ever in south Louisiana because of one simple reason: exploration companies are running away from this state due to the litigious environment and are choosing to explore and produce elsewhere, bringing their jobs and paying their taxes to communities outside of Louisiana.
If Louisiana wants to be the state that we know we can be and be a champion of small business with entrepreneurial spirit, we must tackle the change that is so badly needed. This change will only occur once the attitude within our Executive Branch and Legislative Branch of Louisiana realize the severity of the situation.