Louisiana has again been declared a “judicial hellhole” by the American Tort Reform Association, which advocates for a pro-business legal climate.
Though Louisiana repeatedly made the annual “judicial hellholes” list prior to his election as governor, this year’s report, released Tuesday, sharply criticizes Gov. John Bel Edwards’ “aggressive litigation agenda and propensity for hiring campaign donors to manage litigation on behalf of the state.”
The group raps Edwards for encouraging lawsuits against oil and gas companies as a way to get those companies to pay for damage the industry has caused to Louisiana’s endangered coastal areas.
“Governor Edwards continues to target the [oil] industry and his trial lawyer friends are the true benefactors,” the report says. “The law firm that Edwards chose to lead the efforts on a contingency-fee basis, Talbot, Carmouche and Marcello, also happened to raise $2 million for a super PAC supporting Edwards’ 2016 gubernatorial campaign.”
The Edwards administration declined to respond to the report’s criticisms.
“This organization is funded by a large group of Washington special interest groups who have no interest in protecting Louisiana’s citizens,” a spokeswoman said by email. “The governor is not going to respond to this fiction.”
Baton Rouge attorney Bob Kleinpeter responded to the report on behalf of the Louisiana Association for Justice, which represents trial lawyers. He said Louisiana’s judicial system is “one of the finest anywhere in the world” and called the report an “outrageous and offensive” attempt to erode Louisiana residents’ confidence in the courts.
“This Judicial Hellhole report is financed by out-of-state special interests who want to protect those who have polluted Louisiana’s land and water and violated its rules,” Kleinpeter said by email. “This ‘report’ is created each year but it is not worth the paper it is written on.”
The report ranks Louisiana the fifth-worst “hellhole” in the nation, behind California, Florida, New York City and St. Louis, Missouri.
The rankings are subjective and unscientific, said ATRA President Tiger Joyce. But the report reflects information gathered throughout the year and is meant to spotlight states, jurisdictions and in one case a state legislature the association believes are eager to expand civil liability and treat civil defendants in an “unfair and unbalanced manner.”
“Our purpose is to raise issues, encourage discussion and encourage debate,” he said. “We know that not everybody agrees with us, but we think the matters that we raise are important.”
ATRA cites a Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch report that says excessive torts cost the Louisiana economy some $1.5 billion in annual output and about 15,556 jobs. That report used Ohio, which it said had recently engaged in tort reform, as a benchmark.
Other Louisiana issues raised by ATRA include:
• Edwards’ attempt to hire plaintiffs’ lawyers who contributed to his campaign to pursue litigation against opioid manufacturers.
• High auto insurance costs, which the report blames on an “onslaught of lawsuits.”
• A rising number of claims targeting small businesses for American with Disabilities Act violations.
• A Louisiana Supreme Court ruling that punitive damages are available under maritime law in cases against product manufacturers in a case in which such damages were not authorized by statute.
• The state’s $50,000 threshold for jury trials, highest in the nation, which ATRA says allows attorneys to go “shopping” for plaintiff-friendly judges while denying defendants the right to a trial by jury.