By: Stephen Waguespack
There will be plenty of compelling stories over the next two months as the 2019 Legislative Session unfolds in Baton Rouge. It’s an election year, so the governor and all the legislators know the stakes are high. They are all laser-focused not only on what happens inside the Capitol from now until they adjourn in the first week of June but even more importantly, on how the voters of this state feel about it when they head to the polls in October.
With that in mind, there is one bill that is the most important one we have seen for quite some time: HB 372 by Representative Kirk Talbot. This bill, if passed and signed into law by the governor, will implement long-needed and obvious reform to our legal system that will hopefully lead to better auto insurance rates for Louisiana individuals, families and businesses.
As I travel the state visiting with a wide range of businesses and taxpayers, the frustration with an “out of control” lawsuit culture and a cry for healthier insurance markets is deafening. It is no longer just an important issue to a few specific industries, it has become the most universally supported topic in Louisiana. Truckers, farmers, timber and small businesses are now just as tired of predatory lawsuits as the energy industry has been for years. The suits are out of control, the trial lawyer advertising is way past the point of over-saturation and the costs? Well, let me tell you, all our wallets are a little bit thinner because those costs are hitting every Louisiana family and business.
According to a study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), the average cost to each Louisiana household as a result of our legal climate is an extra $4,000 per year. That comes in the form of a higher cost of a broad host of goods and services in this state due to expensive lawsuits that are as common as crawfish in Louisiana. If you don’t believe that, check out your auto insurance rates and compare it to friends and family in other states and you will be shocked to see how out of line we really are.
It’s not the fault of the local insurance agents that are forced to give you these rates, they are only the messengers for a much more complex problem created by the laws passed over the years in the Louisiana Legislature.
Our rates are second highest in the nation and those costs are as annoying as they are unnecessary. The big reason why is because the laws pertaining to our legal system passed by Legislature over the years seem hyper-focused on delivering big checks in a car wreck case, regardless of what that mindset does to the insurance rates paid by all of us. Representative Talbot’s bill is a well-drafted compromise that attempts to change this.
Opponents to this legislation hope to kill this bill quietly in the Capitol this year. They want to make sure the handful of personal injury lawyers who have made millions in this space, walk away happy… but they also don’t want you, the voter, to know they are opposing this sensible reform. They know if the public finally figures out how hard they work every year to kill bills like this, voters will rightly be outraged.
Opponents will say our legal climate has nothing to do with insurance rates. This argument is comical and non-sensical. The ILR rates our legal climate as 50th in the country and rates us as a “judicial hellhole.” We file three times as many lawsuits as Alabama. We are top 5 in the amount of tort costs as a share of our state economy.
A handful of lawyers have profited extremely handsomely from this legal system and take great steps to make it difficult for the Capitol to muster enough political courage to fix this obvious problem. They write huge checks to big political super PACs and liberal blogs to issue daily attacks on business groups, conservatives and other taxpayer-friendly entities pushing for tort reform. They offer big support to politicians who privately promise to oppose legal reform and keep the gravy train going. They can afford to advertise everywhere we go and at all hours of the day. The money is big… it is everywhere… and it all depends on them keeping the State Capitol dominated by elected officials who promise not to change the laws mucking up our legal system.
To be clear, I know plenty of attorneys and judges who agree the system needs to change, but they are scared to speak up. There are many folks in our legal system who do a great job every day to defend the accused and professionally search for the truth. They also deserve a legal system that is fair.
The practice of law is a noble profession…but Louisiana has allowed for too long the powerful few to put a stain on the many credible and integrity-filled members of our legal system. That needs to change.
It’s time for everyone to pay attention. Make every elected official involved this session answer where they are on this one. Ask your local legislator. Ask the governor. Ask anyone running for anything. Do you support HB 372 as currently drafted or do you oppose it? Don’t let them get away with hiding behind some watering down amendment or procedural excuse. This is a yes or no question.
The choice is clear. It’s not even close. This is the bill of the session. HB 372 calls for more citizen input into the legal system and gives juries the information they need to make smart judgments.
If you want lower insurance rates, let the governor and the Legislature know you support HB 372. If you want a more balanced court system, let them know you support HB 372. If you get involved, the people can win this fight. For those looking to make their voice heard, you can go to www.labi.org to learn more and learn how to get involved.