A group that advocates for more protection for those being sued in civil court ranks Louisiana as the fifth deepest "Judicial Hellhole" in America, blaming Gov. John Bel Edwards as a "former trial lawyer" even though it ranked Louisiana worse under his Republican predecessor.
Edwards, a Democrat running for re-election in 2019, dismissed the annual American Tort Reform Foundation's Judicial Hellholes report as "fiction."
“This organization is funded by a large group of Washington special interest groups who have no interest in protecting Louisiana’s citizens," Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo told USA Today Network. "The governor won’t respond to this fiction.”
Indeed, as WWL-TV previously reported, the ATR Foundation ranked Louisiana even deeper on its Judicial Hellholes list when Republican and avowed tort-reformer Bobby Jindal was the governor. Louisiana was ranked the second most abusive lawsuit state in 2014, based in part on WWL-TV investigations into then-Attorney General Buddy Caldwell's use of connected trial lawyers to sue large companies and landowners filing so-called "legacy lawsuits" against the oil and gas industry.
American Tort Reform Association President Tiger Joyce specifically said the state was hostile against energy companies and that the Legislature should have passed a bill last year making it admissible to note drivers who weren't wearing a seat belt in accidents.
“The evidence that oil and gas exploration is solely to blame for coastal erosion simply does not exist,” Joyce said. “These lawsuits have done nothing to solve the issue but instead only created unnecessary job loss for Louisianans.”
Joyce said Louisiana residents are also among the most litigious in filing lawsuit against small businesses claiming they are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
"(The business owners) are good people who want to serve their customers, but instead, trial lawyers are taking them to court and putting small business owners through the ringer,” Joyce said.
Joyce blamed Louisiana's litigious environment for high auto insurance rates.
A bill by Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Winnfield, that would have made seat belt usage evidence admissible passed the House but was killed in the Senate.
“Louisiana finds itself in a bad cycle of trial lawyers driving up insurance costs, drivers then being unable to afford the necessary auto insurance, and then going to court to seek payouts,” Joyce said. “Revisiting and passing this commonsense piece of legislation would be a step in the right direction to address Louisiana’s high insurance rates and help make auto insurance more affordable for hardworking Louisianans.”
The full ranking of the nation’s Judicial Hellholes includes: California; Florida; New York City; St. Louis; Louisiana; Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas; New Jersey Legislature; Madison and St. Clair Counties, Ill.; and Twin Cities, Minn.
Greg Hilburn covers state politics for the USA TODAY Network of Louisiana. Follow him on Twitter @GregHilburn1. WWL-TV also contributed to this report.