Political Horizons: Louisiana's 'tort reform' talk has shaky foundations

The Advocate
Saturday, December 22, 2018

By Mark Ballard

The “tort reform” idea being discussed so frequently by the Louisiana business community this Christmas season really started three days into George W. Bush’s tenure as Texas governor in January 1995.

Bush emerged from a meeting at an Austin salsa maker’s factory with a plan to fix the so-called jackpot justice system by limiting who could sue and what evidence they could present. That would cut out “the junk lawsuits that clog our courts,” Bush declared.

His position had raised about $4.1 million — or about 10 percent — of the money for Bush’s gubernatorial campaigns, according to Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based advocacy group. That was during a time when colorful Houston lawyers were grabbing headlines with verdicts like $10 million for the death of a pet.

Louisiana soon followed Texas and passed laws that insulated corporations from lawsuits. But that was two decades ago, and now the business community wants more..…

A 2009 analysis by Cornell University School of Law Professor Theodore Eisenberg found the Chamber’s “legal environment” ranking is “substantively inaccurate and methodologically flawed” to prop up its point.

A Dec. 18 report by the New York Law School’s Center for Justice & Democracy showed that civil cases account for 18.1 percent of the nation’s court docket. Torts — litigation seeking damages for personal injuries — amount to only 4 percent of 2016 state court civil caseloads. And those statistics have shown a downward trend for at least five years.

Nearly half the civil cases involve contract disputes, mostly between businesses.

And, by the way, Texas courts accounted for the two largest verdicts in 2017, the latest full year of data available, according to TopVerdict.com. Both were contract disputes with judgments totaling close to $9 billion. Only one of the dozen verdicts, also from Texas, involved a personal injury claim.

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