Republicans to focus on tort reform during upcoming legislative session
When state lawmakers convene at the state capitol next month for the spring legislative session, the push by Republican legislators and business groups to pass tort reform will be in high gear.
State Rep. Raymond Garofalo, R-Chalmette, says it is a big priority.
"We believe that's the number one issue that we're going to deal with this year,” he said.
Tort, according to Merriam Webster Dictionary, is an action that wrongly causes harm to someone but that is not a crime and that is dealt with in a civil court.
Those calling for tort reform in Louisiana believe by changing laws to reduce the number of lawsuits auto insurance rates will go down.
Garofalo pre-filed a tort reform bill for the upcoming legislative conclave.
"The Omnibus Insurance Rate Reduction Act and we're working closely with Sen. Talbot in the Senate to try to move those issues forward,” he said of his legislation.
According to Bankrate.com, Louisiana has the second-highest auto insurance rates in the nation.
Garofalo believes rates would fall if the litigation landscape is changed.
"We're hoping it would lower insurance rates by about 10 percent, that's the goal. It doesn't have a requirement in it because it's really hard for us to pin down the insurance companies like that, but in talking with the insurance professionals that we're speaking to, many of them have told us that we should expect to see some meaningful reductions,” he said.
Among other things, Garofalo’s bill increases the prescriptive period from one year to two years. That period is tantamount to a statute of limitations. His bill also reduces the threshold for a jury trial to $5,000 from the current level of $50,000.
"We want people who are damaged to be compensated for that, the problem right now is the balance of where that compensation comes in is out of kilter. Louisiana is out of kilter with the rest of the country and we’re trying to put us on an even playing field, so that people have an opportunity to get compensated for their damages but not have that benefit of winning the lottery when they have an auto accident,” Garofalo stated.
Governor John Bel Edwards, who is an attorney and a Democrat, is taking a wait-and-see approach to the tort reform push by Republicans.
"I need to see what it looks like, first of all, I'm going to encourage them to do individual bills rather than omnibus bills because that's what they did last year,” he said.
Gov. Edwards is not convinced that tort reform will drive down auto insurance rates.
"First of all, I'm not one who says that if we pass those bills into law that it's going to reflect with lower automobile liability insurance premiums, it may but we haven't seen that in the past, but that doesn't mean that I can't support some of those things,” he said.
Gov. Edwards says as a state lawmaker he tried to pass legislation related to the insurance industry.
“In fact, I had a bill my first year as a legislator to double the prescriptive period from one year to two, many people would call it the statute of limitations, and I know that this will prevent a lot of cost from being incurred by insurers because claims would be settled before a lawsuit has to be filed, it's the shortest period in the country,” said Gov. Edwards. “The people who opposed it back then were the insurance companies, now it's part of their package, so there's obviously common ground, there are some things that we can agree to, and I look forward to working through that process with the legislature."
Some critics say tort reform aims to put handcuffs on people who are injured by someone else. Garofalo denies that.
"That's the last thing on our minds, we're looking at jury trial threshold reduction which is probably the issue that they're talking about, so any case that's over $50,000, jury trial threshold reduction won't affect that at all," he said.