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Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance Jim Donelon addresses on July 7, 2016

Is Louisiana the judicial hellhole some claim it is? Consider this: Our state leads the nation in auto liability lawsuits. In Louisiana’s most populated city, New Orleans, things are really out of control.

Compare auto-related lawsuits filed in New Orleans to other big cities, and the numbers are startling. Fox 8’s Lee Zurik recently reported in Austin, Texas, personal injury lawyers filed 169 auto liability lawsuits per 100,000 residents. In Miami, they filed 110, in Houston 234, and in Dallas 275 per 100,000 residents. In New Orleans, trial lawyers filed an astonishing 853 auto liability lawsuits per 100,000 residents, according to Zurik.

“We are off the charts in claims to litigation. For decades that has been what has kept us the most expensive state in America for auto insurance, “ Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon told Fox 8 News.

Our overly litigious state drives up auto insurance rates for us all. According to insure.com, Louisiana’s auto insurance rates were 56 percent higher than the national average in 2018, with the typical statewide premium costing motorists a pricey $2,126 per year.

Auto insurance rates are ridiculously high in Baton Rouge, where premiums average more than $3,300 a year, and New Orleans, where the average premium will cost you an obscene $4,000 per year.

The costly premiums hit low-income earners the hardest. Imagine a single mother with two kids working two jobs trying to make ends meet forced to pay $4,000 a year for car insurance. Politicians who often claim to be an advocate for the working poor do little to bring about tort reform that would help lower insurance premiums. Their allegiance to trial lawyers who generously donate to campaigns apparently supersedes their concern for the poor.

A study released late last year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform found Louisiana lawsuit abuse costs more than $4,000 per year per household. The organization, which advocates for tort reform, reported Louisiana’s lawsuit costs are the highest in the nation, reaching close to $7 billion.

Court cases involving auto accidents made up the largest share of Louisiana's tort system costs, according to the report. They added up to nearly $3.4 billion.

In Louisiana, residents don't have a right to a jury trial unless the total damages sustained are at least $50,000, Lauren Chauvin, civil justice director at the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry told watchdog.org. Louisiana is also one of only three states that allows residents to sue insurance companies directly, according to Chauvin.

“Many cases stipulate $49,999 in damages so they don't go to a jury but to a judge,” she said.

The organization Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch estimates high tort expenses are costing the state more than 15,000 jobs annually.

“Advertisements for trial attorneys promising quick, easy money flood nearly every airwave and cover countless billboards on nearly all of our highways,” Daniel Erspamer, the Pelican Institute's CEO, told Watchdog.org. “If lawsuits truly afforded jobs and opportunity for the people of our state, we'd be one of the wealthiest in the nation. Unfortunately, this is not the case, as Louisiana's economy is currently ranked the worst in the country.”

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Don’t expect former trial lawyer Gov. John Bel Edwards to sign tort reform legislation anytime soon. The Democrat was heavily supported financially by trial lawyers when running for governor.

The Wall Street Journal called out Edwards on his close ties to trial lawyers in a column last year titled, “The Governor and Louisiana Lawyers Plot an Energy Shakedown.”

The column, written by Allysia Finley, notes that Edwards "was elected in 2015 with substantial support from trial lawyers, and he’s now repaying them in kind. Mr. Edwards wasted no time shaking down Louisiana’s energy industry. Shortly after taking office in January 2016, he met with oil and gas companies and issued an ultimatum: Fork over billions of dollars to help restore Louisiana’s eroding coastline or brave a drawn-out legal battle. “

Times are good for trial lawyers in Louisiana under Edwards, whether they’re going after the deep pockets of oil companies or auto insurers. But their prosperity costs us all with crippling auto insurance premiums and oil industry job losses.

Email Dan Fagan at faganshow@gmail.com. Twitter: @DanFaganShow.