Letter: La. on ‘Judicial Hellholes’ list for 3rd-straight year

Lambs to the Slaughter
December 19, 2012
Right to Work spreads
December 19, 2012

Dear Editor,

Every year, the American Tort Reform Association releases its annual ranking of Judicial Hellholes – essentially these are the worst places in the country to be sued. A “magical jurisdiction” as one infamous personal injury lawyer once described. A place where the facts of a case really don’t matter; where it is nearly impossible to get a fair trial if you are a defendant. A place where businesses, entrepreneurs and America’s job creators are scared to invest because they know that one lawsuit, one run-away verdict could force them to close up shop. That’s a judicial hellhole – and according to ATRA, we are on the verge of becoming one.

They have put us on their “Watch List” for three years in a row now, and unfortunately, this label reflects the sad reality that far too many Louisiana businesses and individuals face on the front lines of lawsuit abuse every day.

With astonishing multi-million dollar verdicts being rendered nearly every other week, and laws and judges that seem to give plaintiffs the upper hand in legal proceedings regardless of the facts of the case – it is no wonder that Louisiana has become a regular on the Hellholes watch list.

One of the main reasons is the unique laws we have on the books in our state that seem to encourage lawsuits. For example, in Louisiana, if you are involved in a lawsuit, you do not have the right to a trial before a jury of your peers unless there’s more than $50,000 at stake. This leads to a lack of jury trials in smaller cases, which allows some trial courts to favor personal injury lawyers who are also their campaign contributors.

Most people who’ve never been involved in a lawsuit have no idea that this law exists – but they should know and they should care because it is one of the main reasons why our auto insurance rates are so high. In fact, Louisiana’s rates are among the highest in the nation, with the average driver paying an annual premium of over $2,500.

In an effort to try and help bring rates down, former Rep. Toni Ligi sponsored a bill last year that would have lowered Louisiana’s jury trial threshold to bring it in line with the rest of the nation and given people greater access to the courts. But guess what? So many of our powerful judges baulked at the idea that it got nowhere. As long as we have laws like this that make us stand out like a sore thumb when compared to other states around the country, we will have a difficult time shedding this reputation as a judicial hellhole.

On a positive note, the report acknowledged Chairman Neil Abramson of the House Civil Law and Procedure Committee for his extraordinary efforts to pass legislation in the 2012 Legislative Session that will help to rein in excessive litigation in the niche sector of legacy lawsuits.

It’s estimated legacy lawsuits cost our state more than 30,000 jobs and $10 billion in economic output over the last eight years, so obviously the new reform bill is a very positive step in the right direction. But in order to shed this “Hellholes” reputation, we must continue challenging the status quo, and encourage our policymakers to take on broader reform efforts.

The full report is available online at www.judicialhellholes.org. Or check out our website at www.LLAW.org.

Melissa Landry,

Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch