The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, famous for promoting business as a primary source of progress and social prosperity, is also becoming known as the home of hack partisans whose agenda is based upon willful error and lazy research. I refer to the guest commentary of Lisa Rickard and her tagalong, Stephen Waguespack, of LABI, whose critique of Louisiana’s legal system is starkly inaccurate. The reader can decide whether this is due to their ignorance of the subject or their self-interest.
The writers falsely claim that “lax venue laws” permit forum-shopping by plaintiffs. However, venue laws (rules for determining the parish in which lawsuits may be filed) are nearly identical in all states and offer very limited forum options. In a typical tort action, the lawsuit is filed in the parish where the incident occurred or where the defendant lives.
The writers advocate jury trials for civil claims of modest value (less than $2,000), which, in Louisiana, are tried before a judge. They reject our state’s approach, which is actually more pro-business than in other states. Having juries for small claims will mean Louisiana’s citizens must take more time from work to sit as juries. Trivial legal claims now requiring juries (which are more costly and more time-consuming) would clog court dockets to the point that the courts cannot function. Is this what Big Business wants?
Frivolous lawsuits (those based upon fraud or falsehood) are the monster under the bed for the chamber and LABI. But they are almost nonexistent. Neither the plaintiff paying attorney’s fees nor the lawyer investing his time find it profitable to present such a claim.
While I acknowledge that there are a few claims entirely without merit, I have never met a judge in three decades of trial practice who would tolerate frivolous claims to survive long. The same can be said for excessive damage awards. Every award is subject to scrutiny by the trial judge, a court of appeal and our Supreme Court, most of whom are decidedly not unduly plaintiff-friendly.
The chamber and LABI position their members (large corporations, insurance companies) against the progress of justice in Louisiana, which, contrary to these writers’ claims, ranks highly in pro-business surveys. The chamber and LABI call this “legal reform” because it favors their members. But how does it favor the people of Louisiana?
Peter M. Meisner