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Tort reform Part 2: Are billboard attorneys to blame?


March 11, 2020
By Jeff Beimfohr
Originally Posted on KTBS 3

Part one of the KTBS three-part series on tort reform attempted to define the problem. Simply put, car insurance rates are too high, or in some cases, unavailable.

In part two, the reasons for that are in the spotlight. There are a lot of opinions, but one almost everybody wants to discuss — all those billboard attorneys filling billboards along the highways.

COMMERCIAL: “Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Like when I was in that car accident. I didn’t know what to do. The insurance company was messing with my mind, so I called Morris Bart.”

Some experts say too many people  are calling Morris Bart, or other billboard attorneys and that’s one reason auto insurance rates in Louisiana are through the roof.

“Right now, individual rights are being trampled and manipulated, all so hat a few aggressive attorney’s can get wealthy, while the rest of us pay the bills through high insurance rates," said Stephen Waguespack, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry president.

COMMERCIAL: “You know what to do, call 525-8000 right now or get 24 hour service at getbart.com.”

Not everyone agrees billboard attorneys should be blamed for high insurance rates, including of course, Morris Bart.

“We take one side, which is representing injured people,” said Bart. "Other lawyers take the other side, which is representing insurance companies. And in the public’s mind this is just a great inconvenience to them.”

An inconvenience that manifests in one way.

“It makes sense they are going to vilify the lawyers for creating the complicated process they have to deal with," said Bart.

COMMERCIAL: “I made that one call on a Saturday and just like that Morris Bart got me $270,000.”

But here’s a surprise from Louisiana’s insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon: “Frankly, those television ads that have clients saying, ‘Morris Bart got me $500,000,' or 'John Doe got me $300,000;' those cases are not the problem.”

Then, what is?

“The minor accidents with $15,000 checks being handed out just to get those claims resolved because to litigate it costs more than the $15,000," Donelon said.

“And these settlement checks just flow out of courtrooms every single day in Louisiana,” said Waguespack. "And it raises rates for all of us.”

So, is tort reform the answer? Not according to Bart.

“What I have been told is the insurance industry has looked at every tort reform measure being proposed in Louisiana, and they have flatly said none of these measures are going to reduce rates," Bart said.

And Bart has supporters, including Eric Holl of Real Reform Louisiana, a group calling for real insurance reform.

“Tort reform won‘t lower insurance rates,” Holl said.

Instead, Holl said it will just make insurance companies more money, adding the reason Louisiana’s auto insurance rates are high.

“Isn’t because of our tort laws. It’s because of the insurance companies who are using things like secret penalties based on your gender, or your status ass a returning military veteran, or your marital status, your education, your credit score; things that absolutely nothing to do with your driving record," Holl said. 

And while he agrees insurance rates need to come down, state Rep. Sam Jenkins, of Shreveport, who chairs the Democratic Caucus in Baton Rouge, seems to lean toward Holl’s arguments.

“I’m very concerned what’s being proposed by way of a bill is more penalizing the consumer and doing very little to really take a look at the insurance industry and their practices, and trying to determine if some of that may be the reasons their rates are so high," Jenkins said.

COMMERCIAL: (Women almost hit by car) “If I’d gotten hit by that car, I’d call Morris Bart.”

And Jenkins’ opinion extends to billboard attorneys.

“I think we are making a big mistake,” said Jenkins. "True tort reform deals with subjects other than lawyers, commercials, lawsuits that have been filed,people making claims.”

Waguespack believes that for decades Louisianans have been used as pawns in a big game — and now: “The game is up, the gig has to stop.”

But until then: (COMMERCIAL) “One call, that’s all.”

There does seem to be a lot of enthusiasm behind the idea of tort reform and lower auto rates in the legislature.

“I believe the fight is not going to be whether we’re going to pass auto insurance reform. It’s what we’re going to pass and what it’s going to look like," state Rep. Alan Seabaugh said.

Click here to watch the video.