Letters: Louisiana among the worst in lawsuit abuses against business
By Sherman Joyce
Louisiana unfortunately is a perpetual fixture on the American Tort Reform Foundation’s “Judicial Hellholes” list, which identifies those states with civil justice systems that allow lawsuit abuse to flourish. As frivolous lawsuits proliferate, the costs associated with these abuses contribute to lost jobs, higher insurance rates and lower income for everyday citizens. In the newly released 2019-2020 report, Louisiana was ranked the fourth-worst judicial hellhole in the country, rising a spot from last year’s No. 5 ranking. Last year, excessive tort costs to the Louisiana economy resulted in more than 15,500 lost jobs and a loss of more than $7.6 million in state revenues.
A primary factor leading to this ranking has been the Legislature’s inability to address Louisiana’s skyrocketing auto insurance rates, which are the second highest in the nation, in large part due to expensive lawsuits against insurance providers, which ultimately force them to raise rates. The powerful influence of trial lawyers in the state Legislature has made reform impossible, and knowing this, many insurance companies have stopped writing policies in Louisiana or left the state entirely.
Another issue that has shaped Louisiana into a Judicial Hellhole is the continued involvement of contingency fee lawyers — private attorneys hired for a percentage of any settlement or court award — in local and parish lawsuits. Contingency fee attorneys are engaged in lawsuits against both energy companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers, blaming them for various problems in Louisiana.
Unfortunately, these lawyers are often chosen for political reasons. A recent report from Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse found that, of the 19 private attorneys representing the state in these cases, 10 donated directly to Gov. John Bel Edwards or to GumboPAC, a political action committee that supports the governor. Edwards also received almost $470,000 in campaign contributions from the Louisiana trial bar’s top campaign contributors from 2011 to 2018, while GumboPAC received over $1 million.
Louisiana’s legal woes extend even beyond the executive and legislative branches into the judiciary, as Louisiana judges face considerable problems with scandal. In 2018 alone, Louisiana’s Judiciary Commission received 543 complaints. A recent series in The Advocate reported that one state Supreme court justice is now under FBI investigation. If these problems persist, Louisiana will continue to operate under an ineffective civil justice system, and this undermines public confidence that is essential for the judiciary. This year, Louisianans need to hold all new judges to a higher standard in order to ensure that they resist the urge to regulate from the bench with sweeping decisions better suited to the state house than the courtroom.