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Prospects for tort reform dim as Louisiana session enters home stretch

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(The Center Square) – With the Louisiana legislative session in its final days, a package of tort reform measures designed to help lower property and auto insurance rates remains in a holding pattern.

Business groups are concerned that the package of legislation championed by Insurance Commissioner Tim Temple is stuck in limbo.

In a statement released by his office, Temple urged Landry and lawmakers to act on the package.

“Our state remains mired in a crisis of availability and affordability in the auto insurance market,” Temple said. “With only a few days left in this legislative session, there has not been significant legislation enacted to address this issue.

“My package of auto insurance reform legislation was designed as a substantial first step to promote competition in the private passenger and commercial auto markets by creating more transparency and balance in our legal system. This will allow Louisiana’s legal system to operate more like the states we are competing with to attract insurance companies on a daily basis.”

Will Green, the president and CEO of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, says the state’s litigation climate is one of the top obstacles to not only encouraging new businesses to relocate to the Pelican State, but existing ones wanting to expand. He cited Florida’s tort reform initiative as one Louisiana officials could emulate.

“We’re not necessarily a stable market and so we can’t keep trying to tackle our insurance crisis with watered-down, siloed versions of bills and if we keep doing that, it’s like I say it’s like treating a bullet wound with a Band-Aid,” Green told The Center Square. “What we do know is that look at states like Florida most recently passing comprehensive packages of bills, to put them in line with other states to send a message that ‘hey, we’re back open for business, you can come right here with some certainty some predictability and some confidence.’ And so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Several of those bills are still awaiting a decision from Gov. Jeff Landry.

Rep. Michael Melerine, R-Shreveport, sponsored House Bill 423, that was passed 68-25 by the Senate in an amended form. The so-called “collateral source” bill modifies awards in cases with recoverable medical expenses.

House Bill 337 is sponsored by Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, and it would ban the practice of direct action, a legal practice where a claim is placed against an insurance company and not the policyholder.

It passed both chambers unanimously in amended form and awaits the governor’s decision.

Also awaiting a possible signature or veto is Senate Bill 84 by Sen. Alan Seabaugh, R-Many, that would add a motion for judgment on an offer of judgment in a civil case.

HB315 by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Pineville, would changes prescriptive periods for tort actions from one to two years.

Another business group concerned with the lack of progress on the tort reform front is the state’s loggers association.

Toni McAllister is the executive director of the Louisiana Loggers Association and owner of the McManus Timber Company. She said she’s hopeful that lawmakers will “enact meaningful reforms to keep our industry alive in Louisiana.”

“The current Legislature should provide a conducive environment for legal and insurance reforms – but these bills have either been left in the Senate Judiciary A Committee or amended to decrease their effectiveness,” McAllister told The Center Square. “Is Louisiana really ‘open for business’ like everyone is saying? That is certainly not the case for commercial haulers.”

Another key measure is not likely to make it out of the Senate.

HB336 is sponsored by Rep. Emily Chenevert, R-Baton Rouge, and is known as the Litigation Financing Disclosure Act. The measure passed 84-17 but was paused by the Judiciary A Committee earlier this month.