Report: Louisiana’s lawyer-friendly civil judicial system costs billions of dollars

American Tort Reform Association ranks Louisiana the sixth-worst civil court jurisdiction in the country, making the state a top “judicial hellhole.”

Updated: December 8, 2021 - 12:25am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The American Tort Reform Association has ranked Louisiana the sixth-worst civil court jurisdiction in the country, making the state a top “judicial hellhole” for another year.

The Washington-based legal watchdog released its annual report Tuesday, highlighting the most egregious local courts and state civil justice systems. Louisiana made its 12th annual appearance on the list.

“Every Louisianan pays a $451 ‘tort tax’ each year due to the costs of excessive lawsuits,” Lana Sonnier Venable, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said in an email statement. “The current total impact of these costs results in $3.87 billion in lost economic activity, 22,550 job losses and $1.12 billion in lost wages for hardworking Louisianans.”

Abusive civil justice climates allow trial lawyers to clog courts with unnecessary lawsuits, the group said, adding that higher insurance rates, fewer jobs and diminished private sector innovation often ensues.

The report cites multiple areas where Louisiana’s litigation environment significantly favored lawyers this year, beginning with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of Senate Bill 43.

Edwards, a former trail lawyer, vetoed the bipartisan legislation that would have limited misleading lawsuit advertising practices and solicitations for legal services.

The bill would have required ads to inform viewers that they were paid advertisements and for ad sponsors to disclose themselves. The bill would have also prohibited ads from appearing as public service announcements and eliminated the use, buying or selling of private health information to solicit individuals for legal services.

“Louisiana accounts for a disproportionate amount of legal services TV ads and spending on those ads (4% of all spending and 5.6% of ads in one quarter) considering that the state makes up less than 1.5% of the nation’s population,” the report said.

In his veto message of SB 43, Edwards said the legislation “is likely unconstitutional in that regulation of attorney advertising is handled by the Louisiana Supreme Court and not the legislature.”

Bill sponsor Sen. Barrow Peacock, R- Bossier City, wrote a follow-up letter to the Louisiana Supreme Court in July, requesting guidance. The court said it could not intervene because the dispute was between the legislative and executive branches.

Edwards vetoed a similar bill last year.

The report cited dozens of lawsuits targeting Louisiana’s energy industry. More than 40 civil lawsuits aimed at about 200 energy companies have been filed since 2013, including multimillion-dollar complaints against some of the world's largest oil-and-gas corporations, such as Shell, BP and Exxon Mobile.

The lawsuits are spearheaded by private attorneys acting on behalf of some coastal parishes.

“The lawsuits claim damages relating to the producers’ conduct carried out at the direction of the federal government during World War II,” the report said.

The coastal plaintiffs allege the energy producers failed to follow “prudent practices” and damaged the environment. The oil-and-gas companies assert they were acting properly under federal laws that predated applicable state environmental laws.

Mining company Freeport McMoRan was the first defendant to end the protracted litigation, paying out $100 million to end its case earlier this year.

The report also touched on judicial corruption and recommended additional reforms to the Louisiana Supreme Court procedures.

“Scandals continue to bring attention to this issue, contributing to both the public and legislature losing patience with the judicial branch’s repeated promises to do better,” the report read.

Examples included Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jefferson Hughes III and Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Sharon Marchman.

Hughes was censured after admitting in June to visiting the home of a Hammond political consultant and offering to pay the consultant if he shifted support away from one Supreme Court candidate to another.

Marchman is under investigation for alleged misconduct that occurred in 2018, long after the Louisiana Judicial Campaign Oversight Committee concluded Marchman violated the state judicial code of conduct.

Judicial complaints filed against judges are not made public unless the Louisiana Judiciary Commission takes action.

“Instances of alleged misconduct, like this one, are being more widely reported and continue to draw the ire of the public,” Sonnier Venable said.