BATON ROUGE – With some tort reform due for action in the Louisiana Legislature early next week, state residents are beyond ready for change, a tort reform advocate said during a recent interview.
"Louisiana has reached a crisis point when it comes to affordable auto insurance for consumers and businesses," Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch Executive Director Lana Sonnier Venable told the Louisiana Record. "Residents across the state are sick and tired of seeing and hearing about lawsuits as a cash crop at every turn – and they are feeling its damaging effects."
Much tort reform legislation introduced in the current session is stalled in committee, but some legislation remains in play.
House Bill 203, sponsored by Rep. Gregory A. Miller (R-Norco), which would address current privileges on liens on "immovables" in claims against owners and contractors, passed the state House 91 yeas to 0 nays on May 8.
Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch Executive Director Lana Sonnier Venable Photo courtesy of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch
In Louisiana, immovables are land, fauna, agricultural crops, buildings and other construction.
HB 203 now is on the state Senate's calendar for a second reading.
Showing a bit more life is Senate Bill 154, which would repeal the state's so-called "seat belt gag rule." SB 154 is on the Senate's calendar and subject to a vote as early as Monday, May 13.
House Bill 229, which would clarify rules about driving while using a cellphone by limiting how it can be used as an exception to existing law, is scheduled for debate on the state House floor Monday. It is sponsored by Sen. Rick Ward III (R-Port Allen).
Also still breathing at the surface is House Bill 372, which passed the House 69 yeas to 30 nays on April 23 and now is in the state Senate's Committee on Judiciary A. The bill would prohibit state courts from awarding plaintiffs' medical expenses that were reduced or paid by a collateral source and addresses jury trials in lawsuits arising from motor vehicle accidents.
"Rep. Kirk Talbot’s (R-River Ridge) HB 372 Omnibus Premium Reduction Act addresses several key issues that contribute to high auto insurance rates and reinforce our reputation as one of the nation’s worst places to do business," Venable said. "Reducing the jury trial threshold so that more citizens have access to a trial by their peers, removing the collateral source rule to ensure that expenses or damages paid by other sources are taken into account, and ending direct action allowing the insurance company to be the primary defendant in a lawsuit are all steps in the right direction."
Another bill that may not be dead is House Bill 273, sponsored by Rep. Thomas Carmody Jr. (R-Shreveport), which would provide procedural and technical updates and modernize language and processes in current contractor law. That bill unanimously passed the House on April 23 with 94 yeas but has since been in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and International Affairs.
Other legislation introduced this session has gotten less traction.
House Concurrent Resolution 4, aimed at limiting outdoor advertising – in particular get-quick litigation schemes that have been popping up on billboards statewide – was involuntarily deferred in committee on April 16. It is sponsored by Rep. Jack McFarland (R-Jonesboro).
Other outdoor advertising bills in the state legislature, House Bill 445, sponsored by Beryl A. Amedée, (R-Houma), and Senate Bill 211, sponsored by Sen. Conrad Appel (R-Metairie), remain immured in committee.
House Bill 51 and Senate Bill 148, sponsored by Rep. Mike Huval (R-Breaux Bridge) and Rep. Sharon Hewitt (R- Slidell) respectively and which also would repeal the so-called "seat belt gag rule" got a bit more traction but also appear stuck in committee.
Venable cheered those legislators who are working for tort reform this session.
"We commend Rep. Talbot and all of the legislators who have authored and/or supported legislation to bring these and other much-needed reforms to Louisiana," she said. "In the upcoming election season, voters must educate themselves about candidates' stances on addressing lawsuit abuse – it is critical to our future."