Watered down tort bill passes Senate

By Catherine Hunt / LSU Manship School News Service

BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana Senate passed 29-9 another bill aimed at lowering insurance rates by limiting damage lawsuits.

The bill by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, attempts to change Louisiana’s legal climate that Republicans and business groups say results in Louisiana drivers paying the second highest insurance rates in the country.

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

Schexnayder’s bill mirrors Talbot’s bill in some ways but leaves out provisions that some lawmakers say are important to lower rates.

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, called jury trial threshold; prohibited plaintiffs from suing insurance companies directly, called direct action; increased the time parties have to file lawsuits to encourage settling out of court, called prescription; and prohibited using evidence of a plaintiff receiving payment from sources besides the defendant, called collateral source.

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

Schexnayder’s bill, however, would only lower the jury trial threshold, prohibit juries from knowing what insurance company is involved in a lawsuit rather than preventing companies from being sued directly and allow seatbelt use into evidence.

Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon said Talbot’s changes could have resulted 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. Republicans assume Schexnayder’s bill also would lower rates but could not provide an estimate.

“Instead of a home run, it’s a triple,” said Sen. Barrow Peacock, R-Bossier City, when comparing the bill to Talbot’s.

Some Republican lawmakers were disappointed with Schexnayder’s bill for leaving out changes to Louisiana’s tort laws that Talbot’s bill addressed.