The Pelican State has once again been named one of the worst places in the nation to be sued. This year, the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) singled out Louisiana as the No. 6 worst “judicial hellhole” in the country because of imbalanced courts and excessive litigation.
ATRA’s report defines “judicial hellholes” as jurisdictions in which “judges in civil cases systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner. The goal is to “shine a light on imbalances in the courts and thereby encourage positive changes by the judges themselves and, when needed, through legislative action or the ballot box.”
Louisiana has been featured in the annual report since it was first published in 2002.
These sentiments have been echoed by numerous other organizations as well. Recently, the Center for Public
Integrity gave Louisiana an “F” for judicial accountability on its Corruption Risk Report Card, while the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform ranked Louisiana’s lawsuit climate 49th in the nation, a rating that is far below every one of our bordering states including: Arkansas (41), Mississippi (43), and Texas (40). Clearly, there’s a pattern here.
Louisiana’s latest ranking in the Judicial Hellholes report is a timely reminder to the incoming administration and new lawmakers that we have some serious work to do to improve our state’s hostile legal climate if we want to truly compete in the global marketplace.
As low oil and gas prices threaten Louisiana’s economy, improving the state’s litigation environment is more important now than ever before.
In contrast to tax credits and exemptions, legal reform is one of the few ways we can attract more jobs and businesses, and it doesn’t cost the state anything. All we need is the political will to make significant changes to ensure that every citizen has access to fair and impartial courts.
One area that’s particularly ripe for reform is the excessively high threshold for jury trials in Louisiana. Currently, the state’s $50,000 barrier for obtaining a jury trial allows elected judges to decide the outcome of the majority of small civil lawsuits.
This process puts a lot of power in the hands of judges, who receive substantial campaign donations from personal injury lawyers, and it takes our citizens out of the process.
Other major reforms lawmakers should consider include: amendments to state venue laws to preclude lawyers from unreasonable forum shopping in Louisiana courts; improvements to the regulatory process for handling environmental lawsuits to discourage the filing of frivolous claims; and transparency bills to ensure that members of the state judiciary are more accountable to taxpayers.
By making lawsuit reform a top priority in 2016, Louisiana can clean up its courts and shed its troubled legal reputation once and for all.
Melissa Landry is executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW), the state’s leading legal watchdog organization. Since it was formed in 2007, LLAW has grown to nearly 6,000 supporters across the state, representing small business owners, health care providers, retirees, taxpayers and workers and their families.
Using community outreach, voter education and grassroots advocacy, LLAW works to raise awareness about the costs and consequences of lawsuit abuse and urge elected officials to bring more balance, fairness and common sense to Louisiana’s civil justice system. To learn more, visit www.LLAW.org.
Posted on Fri, December 18, 2015
by Melissa Landry, Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch