By Catherine Hunt / LSU Manship School News Service
BATON ROUGE — The Senate voted 29-8 Monday to pass a bill that could lower auto insurance rates by limiting damage suits by people injured in car wrecks.
The bill by Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, would change aspects of Louisiana’s tort laws that Republican lawmakers and business lobbyists say make it too easy to file lawsuits after car accidents.
Louisiana drivers pay the second highest car insurance premiums in the nation, after Michigan.
Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said the bill would reduce insurance rates by at least 10 percent, and rates could be reduced by as much as 25 percent in some cases.
Some Democrats said the bill should mandate a minimum reduction of 25 percent, but Republicans opposed pushing for reductions of more than 10 percent from most companies.
“I think there is enough uncertainty ... that it is very difficult to guarantee any kind of result,” said Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell. “I’m really not a fan of the 10 percent that is in the bill either, because I think it is a dangerous precedent.”
The bill passed by enough votes to suggest that the Senate could override a veto by Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat who has expressed opposition to it.
Talbot’s bill focuses on four key components of tort law. The bill would decrease the monetary amount an injury has to be worth to be decided by a jury rather than a judge; prohibit plaintiffs from suing insurance companies directly; increase the time parties have to file lawsuits to encourage settling out of court; and prohibit using evidence of a plaintiff receiving payment from sources besides the defendant.
Proponents say judges, who are elected, receive major donations from plaintiff’s lawyers and are more likely than juries to award significant damages. They also say that Louisiana is one of the few states where injured people can sue insurance companies directly and that these changes would encourage more insurance companies to write policies here, increasing competition and lowering rates.
Democratic lawmakers argue that there is not enough evidence to support that changing these laws would result in lower premiums, and tort reform would make it more difficult for people injured in car accidents to receive the compensation.