Capital Briefing From District 22 State Rep. Gabe Firment

In the last edition of the Capitol Briefing I stated that the number one priority facing the state legislature this session is to pass common sense Tort Reform legislation designed to lower personal and commercial automobile insurance rates. “Tort” Reform simply refers to changes in the civil justice system that aim to reduce the ability of plaintiffs to bring frivolous lawsuits against defendants and to ensure that monetary awards are commensurate with the damages sustained. Our broken legal system has tilted the scales of justice in favor of billboard trial lawyers whose unethical advertising methods have convinced scores of Louisianians that an automobile accident is the equivalent of winning the lottery.

As a result of our toxic legal environment, Louisiana has been named a “Judicial Hellhole” for 7 straight years and we currently have the second highest auto insurance rates in the nation. Hard-working lower and middle class families across the state have been among the hardest hit by the insurance crisis, with many families simply unable to afford the exorbitant automobile insurance premiums. The situation is even more desperate for small business owners such as logging contractors, farmers, and truckers who have no choice but to purchase commercial auto policies in a marketplace where most insurance companies have left the state or been forced to raise their rates due to the trial lawyers zeal for suing anyone with higher policy limits and deeper pockets.

Comprehensive tort reform measures are required to stop the precipitous climb of auto insurance rates and put money back into the pockets of Louisiana families. I will be supporting legislation to decrease the civil jury trial threshold from $50,000.00 to $5,000.00, which will help prevent personal injury attorneys from shopping their cases for judges known to blatantly favor plaintiffs. Louisiana’s $50,000.00 jury trial threshold is clearly an outlier compared to the rest of the nation, with the next closest state having a $15,000.00 limit, and 36 states with a $0.00 threshold.

Another important piece of tort reform legislation will address the collateral source rule which essentially allows juries to see only the “sticker price” for medical costs instead of the actual cost incurred by the plaintiff. This typically results in a windfall for the trial lawyer and plaintiff, and is perhaps the biggest driver of our excessively high rates. Legal reform bills filed this session will also address “Direct Action”, or the trial lawyer’s ability to file a lawsuit against a defendant and their insurer, clearly resulting in higher damage awards.

I will also be supporting repeal of the preposterous “seatbelt gag rule” which prevents a jury from knowing if an injured plaintiff was wearing a seatbelt when the accident occurred. Believe it or not, each of the aforementioned measures were introduced last year and shot down by trial lawyers in the legislature and governor’s mansion. Although abuse of the legal system by trial lawyers is the leading cause of our high insurance rates, we must also hold insurance companies accountable and ensure that rates are based on verifiable actuarial data and not on arbitrarily determined standards.

I look forward to the spirited debates that will no doubt accompany our efforts to pass this common sense legislation our state urgently needs. Please know that my decisions as your state representative will always be made prayerfully with the best interests of the men and women of District 22 in mind.

Gabe Firment
District 22 State Representative

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