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Primary results bode well for Louisiana lawsuit reform efforts, experts say; Runoff election for governor is next big hurdle

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By Zeta Cross | Oct 29, 2019

Dawn Starns, Louisiana NFIB | NFIB website

Louisianans concerned about too many frivolous lawsuits that hamstring businesses have reason to be encouraged following the October primary election, according to a business expert.

Dawn Starns, National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) state director for Louisiana, said the NFIB Louisiana PAC supported a number of successful, pro-lawsuit reform candidates in the election. 

“We were thrilled with the outcome, “ she told the Record.  

Lana Sonnier Venable, executive director of the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW), was also pleased that many candidates who prioritize civil justice reform won seats in the primary.

“In many races across the state, candidates whose messages focused on supporting business and economic development over the continued influence of the trial bar were heard loud and clear,” she said in an interview. 

Robert Hogan, professor of political science at LSU, agrees that conservatives who are anxious for tort reform have reason to be encouraged by the primary results. However, he said, the average voter may not understand what tort reform is. 

“Businesses and physicians support it because they want to reduce their liability,” he said. “It is about liability for them.” 

For instance, he said the average voter is not aware of how capping lawsuit damages and reining in the ability to sue can affect their lives.

Trial attorneys, on the other hand, have a great deal at stake. Right after the October primary, prominent Baton Rouge attorney Kenny Hooks fired off a letter to his fellow attorneys, urging them to give the maximum in donations to re-elect Gov. John Bel Edwards and support the Gumbo PAC, which supports Louisiana trial lawyers’ interests.

“...if the drastic tort reform efforts proposed by the opponents of Governor Edwards are enacted as law, the legal community will shrink dramatically, a fact that will impact all of us, “ Hooks wrote in the letter, dated Oct. 17. 

Venable disagrees on the point of tort reform resonating with average voters.

“A recent poll conducted by Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse found that 46.1 percent of Louisianans surveyed feel lawsuit abuse is an issue in Louisiana, with 34 percent identifying increased prices on goods and services as the most worrisome aspect of this abuse,” she said.

How much of a threat does Gov. Edwards face from businessman Eddie Rispone when they face off in the Nov. 16 runoff election? Hogan says that depends on how the Rispone campaign holds up to increased scrutiny in the next few weeks. Most voters were not familiar with the wealthy Baton Rouge businessman and solid supporter of President Trump until Rispone began his television ad campaign in September, Hogan said. 

Starns says electing pro-lawsuit reform candidates is only the first step in improving Louisiana’s legal climate. “We need the right legislative leadership to actually get the job done,” she said. 

“Simply winning seats won’t be enough without a Senate president and a House speaker who believe we need lawsuit reform to move the state forward," she said.

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Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch