Citizens’ ability to pursue personal injury cases in LA protected

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Ordinary citizens who file personal injury lawsuits in Louisiana were provided protection this week when a Louisiana state legislative committee voted against lowering the $50,000 threshold in personal injury cases for requesting a jury trial. Louisiana has one of the nation’s highest thresholds for requesting a jury. This means that lawsuits with a dollar amount less than $50,000 are currently decided only by a judge. The vote was a very rare defeat for the Louisiana buisness lobby.

State Representative Tony Ligi (R-Metairie) proposed lowering the cap to only $15,000 in civil tort cases, chiefly personal injury cases. The Civil Law and Procedure Committee, voted against the idea by a 7-5 margin.

The measure would have allowed either defendants or plaintiffs in a personal injury case to request a jury at their own expense. Joined by representatives of business and insurance, Rep. Ligi pitched the proposal as a way to reduce insurance rates even though he admitted that he had not bothered to discuss the bill with Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon or anyone in his office. He cited a U.S. Chamber of Commerce “study” that suggests Louisiana has one of the worst tort environments for business in the nation.

But several legislators disputed Ligi’s claim that a change in tort law will lower insurance rates. Lawmakers also argued that corporations, rather than individual citezen-plaintiffs, would be the ones to want a jury in low dollar-value cases.

We agree with the opponents of the Ligi bill. The cost of a jury trial in low dollar-value cases would be a barrier for plaintiffs. Furthermore, any potential benefits (which there is no proof of to support) would be outweighed by the massive ineffeciency and delay in our civil courts as the result of an increase in jury trials–which generally take twice the length of time as a judge trial.

Finally, it is revealing that Rep. Ligi would limit the application of this bill to tort cases (usually involving at least one citizen-party) while carving out commercial litigation cases, which normally involve two opposing businesses or corporations.

If you or anyone you know has been injured due to the fault of another person or company, call Harmon Smith & Vourvoulias immediately at 504-717-2093 for a free case evaluation. Our staff of experienced personal injury attorneys are available to assist you in obtaining the recovery you are entitled to under the law.

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By George Vourvoulias

George is a founding member and managing member of Harmon, Smith & Vourvoulias L.L.C., a New Orleans law firm. George concentrates his practice in maritime personal injury, construction litigation, personal injury, workers' compensation, medical malpractice, and DUI defense. George Vourvoulias's Google+ Profile