Gov. John Bel Edwards in July signed into law changes to Louisiana’s civil litigation rules aimed at restraining the money people can win against insurance companies and businesses in car accident lawsuits.
The Democratic governor had vetoed an earlier, more sweeping version of the civil justice system changes. Edwards’ signature on House Bill 57, sponsored by Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, was expected but it still represented a significant victory for business organizations that worked to elect Republican lawmakers in 2019 who pledged to support the changes.
Supporters claim the “tort reform” effort will lower insurance rates, which are the nation’s second highest, by making litigation less lucrative. Opponents call it a giveaway to business that will damage injured people’s ability to receive adequate compensation.
The goal of the law is to reduce the number of lawsuits filed in car accidents, lessen the lawsuits that are successful and shrink the damages awarded.
Opponents, largely lawyers and Democrats, noted the bill doesn’t contain a commitment that it would lower insurance. They said the measure would keep people from getting money needed to cover medical bills and could increase court costs.
The bill, which takes effect on Jan. 1, will:
- Force jury trials more frequently, so that lawyers have to argue damage claims to more people than a single judge. The measure drops the threshold for a jury trial from claims that exceed $50,000 to claims larger than $10,000, with some exceptions.
- Limit the mentions of insurance coverage during a trial. Bill supporters said that juries were more likely to give higher damage awards to people if they expected an insurance company, rather than an individual, to cover the costs.
- Cap certain medical expenses for which damages can be awarded. This change doesn’t apply in medical malpractice cases or in lawsuits against state agencies, state boards and commissions, parish sheriffs, school boards or other local government agencies.
- Allow information about whether someone was wearing a seatbelt as evidence in litigation.
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