Two tort reform bills in play

By Catherine Hunt / LSU Manship School News Service

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BATON ROUGE — With the special session nearing an end, the Senate passed two possible compromise bills Monday aimed at lowering auto insurance rates and winning support from Gov. John Bel Edwards, who vetoed a major Republican-backed tort reform plan.

The Senate voted 30-8 to approve a bill by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzalez. Another bill, by Rep. Richard Nelson, R-Mandeville, passed 35-3, with seven Democrats voting in support.

The House passed Nelson’s bill 82-9 last week, with 21 Democrats voting for it.

Stephen Waguespack, head of the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, told The Advocate/The Times-Picayune that his group was fine with either Nelson’s or Schexnayder’s bill.

The vetoed bill was proposed by Sen. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge. It would have limited damages awarded to plaintiffs in personal injury cases in an attempt to lower auto insurance premiums.

Louisiana has the second highest car insurance rates in the country, after Michigan.

Republicans have not been able to muster the votes to override Edwards’ veto, and have focused on passing replacement bills or resolutions while negotiating with Democrats, who want greater assurances that rates would go down and that accident victims would not be unfairly treated.

Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, and Sen. Robert Mills, R-Minden, have filed three identical resolutions that follow Talbot’s methods to lower insurance rates and could be implemented without Edwards’ consent.

The session must adjourn by 6 p.m. Tuesday, and House and Senate leaders must decide whether to send one of the bills to Edwards or proceed with the resolutions.

Like Talbot’s bill, Nelson’s would extend the time that parties have to file lawsuits in hopes of encouraging parties to settle out of court. It would also limit the amount of recoverable medical expenses and insurance premium payments, and it would lower the monetary amount an injury has to be worth to be decided by a jury rather than a judge.

But unlike Talbot’s bill, it would reduce the default number of jurors to six from 12 to try to lessen the burden on courts and jurors. Judges expressed concerns that Talbot’s bill would overwhelm courts with jury trials and that rural areas could have trouble finding enough jurors for personal injury cases.