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The Louisiana Record

Today, the American Tort Reform Association issued its annual Judicial Hellholes report naming courts in Louisiana among the nation’s “most unfair” in their handling of civil litigation.

The Judicial Hellholes program identifies and documents jurisdictions where judges in civil cases systematically apply laws and court procedures in an unfair and unbalanced manner, generally to the disadvantage of defendants. Louisiana has chronically placed at the top of the Hellholes Report as a state in need of substantial civil justice reform.

In the 2014 session of the Louisiana Legislature, the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) prioritized lawsuit reform in order to improve the state’s judicial climate and reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits and the associated costs to the community, and the American Tort Reform Association has taken notice. Louisiana moved down in the rankings from No. 2 to No. 7 in the Hellholes Report demonstrating fundamental improvements in the state’s judicial environment.

“This year’s Hellholes Report demonstrates LABI’s effectiveness at the capitol this past session, but more work remains to be done. Building on the successes of the 2014 legislative session, LABI and our members are emboldened and more determined than ever to change the Louisiana judicial system and bring a fair and balanced legal environment to businesses and taxpayers alike,” said Stephen Waguespack, president of LABI.

At the urging of LABI and its coalition partners, the Legislature adopted significant, positive civil justice reforms during the 2014 legislative session. The report praises several specific pieces of enacted legislation, including:

  • Act 796, which expressly prohibits the state’s use of contingency fee contracts, caps the rates that outside attorneys can be paid, and establishes transparency in the process.
  • Act 400, which strengthens legacy lawsuit reforms, discouraging frivolous claims, speeding up regulator cleanups prior to lengthy and costly litigation, and creating a more predictable legal environment for all parties.
  • Act 544, which clarifies the governmental entities authorized to bring a lawsuit from activity regulated by state or federal coastal use permits. In time, this law will effectively end the unauthorized lawsuit brought by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East against 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies that have operated with legal permits in the coastal zone for decades.

This fall, the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) honored LABI and its coalition partners with its Outstanding Organization Award in recognition of its history of supporting legal reform and its successful efforts to pass important legislation during the 2014 session.

“On behalf of our member companies across the state, LABI advanced some of the most substantial legal reforms in the nation this year,” said Waguespack. “In 2015 and every year thereafter until reform is complete, LABI will work with the Louisiana Legislature on policy and legal solutions and strive to elect legislators, judges and others that put the rights of the people first.

LABI’s ongoing research has identified areas to continue to improve the legal climate in the state.

“Our recent research demonstrates the need for additional transparency and accountability within the Louisiana judiciary itself,” said Camille Conaway, vice president of policy and research at LABI. “For example, basic information on budgeting and expenditures that is readily available to taxpayers on the work of the executive and legislative branches of government is simply not accessible within the Louisiana court system. We hope to work with legislators to address this imbalance in 2015.”

In addition to judicial transparency, LABI’s civil justice reform priorities for the 2015 legislative session include lowering the nation’s highest threshold for a civil jury trial, improving venue provisions to ensure lawsuits are filed where damages actually occurred, and other common-sense reforms to move Louisiana off the Judicial Hellholes list.

For more information about LABI’s tort reform efforts, read LABI whitepapers, “Fact Sheet: Louisiana’s Judicial Climate” and “Making the Case to Improve Louisiana’s Business Climate through Lawsuit Reform.”