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Anti-lawsuit group again calls Louisiana a ‘judicial hellhole’

December 10, 2019
Originally posted on The Center Square

A national group that advocates for civil defendants has once again labeled Louisiana a “judicial hellhole.”

Louisiana is ranked fourth on a list of ten “hellholes.” The list, released annually, is subjective and unscientific and is meant to draw attention to various jurisdictions and governmental entities that the American Tort Reform Association believes are “radically out of balance” in favor of civil plaintiffs.

“Our purpose is to raise issues, encourage discussion and encourage debate,” ATRA President Tiger Joyce said after the release of last year’s list. “We know that not everybody agrees with us, but we think the matters that we raise are important.”

In its new commentary, ATRA cites “the costly combination of former plaintiffs’ attorney and current Governor John Bel Edwards’ (D) aggressive litigation agenda, the plaintiff-friendly legislature, and inescapable advertising practices by the plaintiffs’ bar.” Louisiana also was named a “hellhole” before Edwards was elected.

The group criticizes litigation brought by the Edwards administration, Attorney General Jeff Landry and local governments seeking damages from pharmaceutical companies for their alleged roles in the opioid crisis. Attorneys are working on a contingency-fee basis, ATRA says, so “their incentive is to maximize their fees irrespective of the public interest.”

ATRA also mentions the failure in the Louisiana Legislature of this year’s “omnibus premium reduction act,” which the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the state’s top business lobby, considered the session’s top priority. Supporters said the bill might have led to lower auto insurance rates, though they conceded there was no guarantee it would be effective in that regard and there was nothing in the bill that mandated lower rates.

Baton Rouge attorney Bob Kleinpeter responded to last year’s list on behalf of the Louisiana Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers. He said Louisiana’s judicial system is “one of the finest anywhere in the world” and called the report an “outrageous and offensive” attempt to erode Louisiana residents’ confidence in the courts.

“This Judicial Hellhole report is financed by out-of-state special interests who want to protect those who have polluted Louisiana’s land and water and violated its rules,” Kleinpeter said. “This ‘report’ is created each year but it is not worth the paper it is written on.”

ATRA says its membership is “diverse and includes nonprofits, small and large companies, as well as state and national trade, business, and professional associations.”

“ATRA's members are largely Fortune 500 companies with a direct financial stake in restricting lawsuits,” according to the Center for Justice and Democracy, which advocates for plaintiffs. “Members have included representatives of the tobacco, insurance, chemical, auto and pharmaceutical industries. Corporate giants like Philip Morris, Dow Chemical, Exxon, General Electric, Aetna, Geico and Nationwide have all supported ATRA.”

The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas was ranked as the worst “hellhole” in the country. California and New York City were listed second and third respectively.