La. reflects on Georgia tort reform law

Alejandro de los Rios Jun. 14, 2010, 11:25am

BATON ROUGE, La. (Legal Newsline) - The executive director of the Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch (LLAW) called the passing of a Georgia tort reform law a "no brainer" and said the state is leading the way in curbing frivolous lawsuits.

Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the Transparency in Lawsuits Protection Act into Georgia law June 2. According to a report on, the law "allows a private right to action only when the state legislation under which the suit is brought expressly allows such a suit."

In Washington D.C., Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, issued a press release hailing the Georgia law.

"Clarity and transparency in legislative intent is critical, especially when bills might crack open the door to frivolous and expensive litigation," the statement read in part. "Under this common sense law, no new private rights of action will be inadvertently created through legislation unless specifically articulated by the legislature."

Melissa Landry, executive director of LLAW, said that the new Georgia law is significant in the context of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, where oil company BP has already paid millions in claims and is expected to face years of litigation. The Louisiana State legislature is considering several bills that would change liability law in the state.

"The legislative intent is being described to BP oil, but when you get down to brass tacks it's much broader than that," Landry said. "If we had a similar law or statute like they have in Georgia, we could cut down on that."

Loyola Law School professor James Viator disagreed that a law similar to Georgia's would have much impact on how Louisiana courts handle tort cases. Via e-mail, Viator said that Louisiana courts aren't in the habit of using statues to create a duty (also known as cause of action) in tort cases.

"Louisiana recognizes the possibility of "statutory duty" cases, but it is not an over-used jurisprudential technique," he wrote. "The same technique is called 'negligence per se' in common-law states, and they use it more frequently (and with somewhat different implications) than it is used in Louisiana."

Louisiana tort law came under criticism in 2009 when some 4,000 to 7,000 households experienced problems with Chinese drywall, pointing to two bills passed in 1996. According to the American Tort Reform Association's Web site, House Bill 20 repealed the statute authorizing punitive damages awarded for the wrongful handling of hazardous substances.

House Bill 18 repealed the judicially-created strict liability doctrine which exposed property owners to liability without proof of fault.

An article in the Sept. 23, 2009 issue of the New Orleans Times-Picayune quoted Republican Senator Julie Quinn as in favor of changing the 1996 laws in order to protect consumers who bought Chinese drywall.

"We took that away from the consumer. We say, 'Sorry, you're going to have to sue the manufacturer in China.' That puts people in Louisiana at a huge disadvantage," she said. "We threw the consumer under the bus under the purview of 'Hey, this will attract business to Louisiana.' All we did was hurt the consumer."

In 2006, the Louisiana 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Lake Charles ruled that the state's $500,000 tort reform cap from 1975 was unconstitutional.

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