I read with interest a recent article about tort reform by State Representative Firment who represents a part of Natchitoches Parish. The Representative stated that he intends to vote for legislation that will drastically strip us of our rights.
For the purposes of full disclosure, I am a Trial Lawyer. I represent people who have be catastrophically injured or lost a loved one because of someone’s reckless conduct. I understand that some people do not like Trial Lawyers, until they need one.
I would first like to respond to the attacks made on our Judges and Clerks of Court. The Representative stated that lowering the civil jury trial threshold to $5,000.00 will prevent lawyers from shopping their cases to judges known to blatantly favor plaintiffs. This attack on our judicial system is offensive and simply false.
We have three Judges in our parish that hear civil cases and all of them conduct themselves with the highest degree of professionalism. Our Judges go to great lengths to ensure that each person who appears before them is treated equally and that each case is decided based on the law and facts. Each of our Judges has ruled for my clients and against my clients. While I do not always agree with their rulings, I would never question their impartiality. I know they have done their best to listen to the evidence and apply the law. I have found that every Judge in our State takes this responsibility seriously.
The suggestion that lawyers are permitted to pick which Judges hear their cases is either a misunderstanding of our law or a completely unfounded attack on our Clerks of Court. Louisiana law requires that every case must be randomly assigned to a Judge. In Natchitoches, the Clerk of Court actually rolls dice to determine which Judicial Division a case is assigned to.
Either the Representative was accusing our Clerks of violating the law by letting lawyers pick a particular Judge to hear a case or he did not take the time to research the law before he wrote his article. I am not sure which is worse. We should expect that if a Representative wants to reform our judicial system, he should take his job serious enough to learn how the judicial system actually works.
As to the changes that are being proposed, people should understand how “tort reform” will impact them. How many of you like Jury Duty? While serving on a jury is one of our most important civic duties, everyone appreciates how inconvenient it can be. Jurors are required to take off work. Some jurors are required to hire someone care for their children while they serve. Small businesses in our town are also impacted. When one of your employees cannot come to work because they have jury duty, this creates problems for your business.
These are just some of the reasons why our law only requires juries in the most serious cases. Instead we have elected Judges who are getting paid to hear these smaller cases. Lowering the jury trial threshold will cause a massive increase in the number of civil jury trials, which in turn will result in you being called for jury duty likely multiple times per year. Who thinks that is a good idea?
I completely agree that our insurance rates are too high in Louisiana. There are many reasons why our rates are so high. We have some of the worst roads in the country. We also have one of the highest numbers of uninsured motorist per capita.
But we also do a pitiful job regulating the insurance industry. We let insurance companies run rampant, even though we are required to buy insurance. Our insurance commissioner, who has received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the insurance industry, allows insurance companies to charge people more because they are a woman, because their spouse has died, because they have bad credit, or because they have been deployed oversees for military services. Yes, you read that correctly. Insurance companies are permitted to charge members of military more when they return from being deployed oversees. None of these factors has anything to do with whether someone is more likely to cause an accident.
The proposed “tort reform” will not lower insurance rates. Don’t take my word for it. The Representative who wrote this bill has testified in the legislature that there is no proof that this bill will result in lower insurance rates. What this bill will do is increase insurance companies’ profits at our expense.
I do not mean to just pick on State Farm. As far as insurance companies go, State Farm is one of the most reputable companies you can do business with. Some of their agents are dear friends of mine and I use State Farm to insure my small business. That being said, in 2018 State Farm had profits of nearly $8.8 Billion and has a net worth of over $100 Billion. I do not begrudge people and companies making money. But the idea that our problem is that insurance companies aren’t currently making enough money is ridiculous.
Instead of considering reasonable policies to hold the insurance industry accountable, Representative Firment is advocating repeal of what is known as the Direct Action Statute. Repeal of the Direct Action Statute would mean that people could no longer sue insurance companies. People will have to drag their neighbors into court to settle an issue with the insurance company. So instead of making insurance companies do what’s right, Representative Firment wants to make things easier for them. Again, who thinks this is a good idea?
One of our local Senators, Jay Luneau, has filed multiple bills to prohibit insurance companies from charging women more, penalizing widowers and members of the military, and charging people with bad credit more. I would urge everyone to contact your Representative and Senator and ask them to support Senator Luneau’s bills and oppose tort reform, which won’t lower rates but will strip you of your legal rights.