Tort reform passes Senate panel

By Catherine Hunt / LSU Manship School News Service

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, sponsored resolutions that could limit injury lawsuits in an effort to lower car insurance rates. — Photo credit: Sarah Gamard/LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — House and Senate committees passed more legislation Wednesday aimed at lowering car insurance rates in Louisiana by limiting damage lawsuits.

Louisiana has the second highest auto insurance rates in the country after Michigan, and lawmakers have focused on lowering these rates during the regular and special legislative sessions.

A major bill by Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, addressed several components of Louisiana’s tort laws that Republicans say lead to high rates. His bill was vetoed by Gov. John Bel Edwards Friday.

The Republicans could still try to override the veto, but they also are trying to pass possible replacement bills before the special session ends July 1.

The House Civil Law and Procedure Committee passed several bills that mirrored Talbot’s in changing areas of current tort law they say will reduce premiums.

Talbot’s bill would have decreased the monetary amount an injury has to be worth to be decided by a jury rather than a judge; prohibited plaintiffs from suing insurance companies directly; increased the time parties have to file lawsuits to encourage settling out of court; and prohibited using evidence of a plaintiff receiving payment from sources besides the defendant.

His bill also would have allowed juries and judges to hear whether someone was wearing a seatbelt at the time of an accident.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said these changes could result in premium reductions of at least 10 percent. However, companies could be excused from reducing rates if they can prove that doing so would lead to insolvency.

Democrats say that none of the bills guarantee rate reductions and that they make it harder for injured people to get the payments they deserve.

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, sponsored three resolutions that address three portions of Talbot’s bill. His resolutions would repeal the current seatbelt rule, prohibit suing insurance companies directly and remove the monetary requirement needed for juries to hear a case.