Tort reform group has its eyes on Louisiana

Michael P. Tremoglie Dec. 15, 2011, 12:00pm


WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) - Louisiana State University's football is not the only Bayou State institution being ranked this year. The state of Louisiana made the American Tort Reform Foundation's annual Judicial Hellhole list.

Judicial Hellholes are those jurisdictions which ATRF claims are unjust in their civil litigation and court practices. Louisiana was added to the Watch List, which means it is not quite a dyed-in-the-wool judicial hellhole. But there have been disturbing actions in the state courts that make it worthy of monitoring, according to ATRF.

The reason Louisiana is on the Watch List is its job-killing "legacy lawsuits" and for "an appellate court's decision to uphold a $15 million verdict for the family of a man who blew up his home while in the process of stealing natural gas from a local utility," the report says.

"This is not the first time Louisiana has been called out on the national stage for its poor legal climate, and whether we like it or not, reputations matter," Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch, said in a statement regarding the report.

"The perception of a state's legal climate affects how companies do business, and where they decide to invest and create new, well-paying jobs."

According to ATRF, the state "has developed a cottage industry of lawsuit claims against energy companies replete with unsubstantiated claims of environmental contamination."

There have been more than 250 of such legal actions, it says. Approximately 1,500 companies have been targeted, many of which have chosen to settle out of court rather than risk jury verdicts that can be capricious, ATRF says.

"Unfortunately, Louisiana's pattern of doling out millions of dollars for hugely exaggerated claims of environmental damage as a result of decades-old oil and gas production has spawned a cottage industry of cookie cutter lawsuits that are giving Louisiana a bad name and threatening the survival of a critical aspect of our energy sector," Landry said.

"This jarring reputation as a potential Judicial Hellhole should concern every policymaker and citizen in Louisiana hoping to see more jobs and a stronger economy for our state."

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