Sam Hanna Jr.

With the 2020 regular legislative session just over the horizon, the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry seems singularly focused on convincing state lawmakers to approve far-reaching tort reform legislation.

Just a year ago, or thereabout, LABI directed all of its energy into passing tort reform, better known as legislation to make it harder for plaintiff attorneys to sue insurance companies as well as anyone or anything else that could be described as business friendly. LABI didn’t get its way last year thanks to a Senate committee dominated by a lawmaker or two who makes his living doing the exact same thing that LABI aims to upend.

Though the state’s largest and most influential business lobby failed to pass tort reform in 2019, LABI took its loss and parlayed it into a campaign issue for business-friendly candidates to exploit in last fall’s election cycle. It worked for the most part. Most of the freshmen lawmakers, including House and Senate members, owe their elections to LABI and its well-heeled membership, which directed hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions of dollars, into their campaigns or into media buys against their opponents.

Yet, the average man or woman on the street has no idea what tort reform really means. They’ve probably heard the buzz words and catchphrases that tort reform will thwart plaintiff attorneys from filing so-called frivolous lawsuits. They’ve probably heard tort reform will make it easier for the economic development professionals to lure business and industry and new jobs to Louisiana. After all, haven’t we been told the state’s litigious environment is motivating business and industry to leave Louisiana or never consider locating here in the first place?

And we’ve all heard that the so-called frivolous lawsuits plaintiff attorneys file against insurance companies are the sole reason we pay sky-high automobile insurance rates in Louisiana. Tort reform will fix it, of course. Or so we have been told.

It’s been my experience that engaging an attorney is an absolute necessity when dealing with an insurance company that owes you money. Insurance companies don’t make money by paying claims. They make money by denying claims or ignoring your demands altogether. Accordingly, you must hire a lawyer to represent you in any interaction with a company whose path to profitability depends on not paying for the mistakes its customers make. That’s life.

There’s no denying there are lawyers among us who could be guilty of filing a lawsuit from time to time that could be described as frivolous. At least it would be described as frivolous in the eyes and minds of insurance companies and their attorneys, who by the way, are just as guilty as the plaintiff attorneys, if not more, in driving up the cost of litigation. Yes, defense attorneys are scumbags, too.

This entire topic matter of tort reform is far more complex than merely curbing so-called frivolous lawsuits. At the heart of the matter, it’s about curtailing your civil liberties, and like everything else in life, there’s a healthy balance to be discovered. As long as somebody else has to pay for it.

In the final analysis, LABI has made tort reform its primary objective for two years now. If LABI is successful in passing tort reform in the upcoming regular legislative session and somehow convinces Gov. John Bel Edwards to sign it into law, our friends at LABI and its allies in the Legislature had better hope tort reform delivers on every single promise LABI has made, particularly LABI’s insistence that automobile insurance rates would plummet if only the Legislature would pass tort reform.

Sam Hanna Jr. can be reached by phone at 318-805-8158 or e-mail at samhannajr@samhannajr.com.

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