Dan_Fagan

You can typically tell how well an industry is doing by the money it spends on advertising. Have you watched daytime TV lately? Just about every commercial features a personal injury attorney guaranteeing a big check if you just give them a call.

Just as turning on the light in the middle of the night in a dirty Louisiana kitchen and seeing cockroaches scatter reveals a nasty bug problem, daytime TV shows our personal injury lawyer infestation.

We've got so many lawyers now they’re using their commercials to fight among themselves. Baton Rouge trial lawyer Eric Guirard recently ran a commercial depicting an actor bearing rival attorney Gordon McKernan’s likeness falling off a big rig truck while filming a commercial. Stay classy, personal injury attorneys.

A new study released by the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform found no other state in the nation is more personal injury lawyer-friendly than Louisiana. “Louisiana’s lawsuit climate has hit rock bottom,” said ILR President Lisa A. Rickard. “The state’s long history of litigation abuse and the questionable integrity of its courts hurt everyone by holding back more robust job growth and investment.” Louisiana’s high threshold for jury trials drives a lot of lawsuit abuse. A jury trial requires at least a $50,000 claim. That’s the highest in the nation. Maryland has next highest with a threshold of $15,000. Our state’s high threshold motivates trial lawyers to jack up the size of their claims. As a result, Louisiana claims are twice as high as the national average.

No wonder auto insurance rates in Louisiana went up 8 percent last year and are the second highest in the nation. The average premium is close to $2,000 a year. Someone has to pay for those vacation homes trial lawyers are fond of buying. Our lawsuit abuse problem also drives away jobs. Why would a business, especially one with deep pockets, locate to a state so badly in need of tort reform? Why would the oil industry invest more money in our state when it is so vulnerable to lawsuit abuse? Who knows how much new investment and resulting jobs we are losing out on.

The report also found Louisiana trial lawyers benefit from what is called pay-to-play. Politicians often reward trial lawyers donating to their campaign with big-money government contracts to sue businesses and major industries at taxpayer expense. Our nation’s capital has nothing on Louisiana when it comes to a vibrant swamp with slimy creatures crawling around grasping for taxpayer money. And as you might suspect, New Orleans is getting in on the action. The Chamber study reports only three cities in America are more personal injury attorney-friendly than New Orleans.

It is true insurance companies have their well-paid lawyers. But the Chamber study offers strong evidence things are out of whack and the advantage is bent toward personal injury attorneys. The study is backed up by the fact that Louisiana auto insurance rates are so high.

For any of this to change, Gov. John Bel Edwards would have to sign off on meaningful tort reform legislation. He has shown no inclination. Clearly, trial lawyers are fond of Edwards, donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to him. They gave him close to $700,000 during his campaign for governor and an additional $328,000 since 2008. The governor will need their support when he runs again.

Trail lawyers have long been an important part of the Democratic Party’s fund-raising efforts, along with “Big Labor” and “Big Environment.” As long as we have a Democrat in the governor’s mansion, the chances we’ll see tort reform and our auto insurance rates drop is not likely. But then again, tort reform was also elusive under eight years of Bobby Jindal.

You have to hand it to trial lawyers. They know their way around the courts and the halls of the Louisiana Legislature. Their cabal is strong, powerful, and influential. They are laughing all the way to the bank, and we all are paying the price for their cash-infused party.

Dan Fagan is a former TV and radio broadcaster who lives in Metairie. Email him at faganshow@gmail.com.