Compromise announced on 'legacy lawsuit' reform

Kyle Barnett May 17, 2012, 12:32pm

BATON ROUGE, La. (Legal Newsline) - After weeks of contentious debate, a compromise has been announced on Louisiana legacy lawsuit reform.

Only hours after a committee meeting was canceled at which a bill favoring energy producers was to be heard, Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle announced that landowners and energy producers had come to an agreement.

Legacy lawsuit reform has been a major issue this legislative session pitting energy producers against landowners and trial attorneys over pollution cleanup costs at former oil drilling sites.

Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch Executive Director Melissa Landry said the compromise was a hard fought effort.

"From the beginning of the legacy lawsuit debate, LLAW has urged leaders to find a resolution that would put the science-based environmental cleanup of our lands before money-based litigation and in many instances greed-driven lawsuit abuse," Landry said.

"It seems after many months of discussion, they have achieved just that - but so far only in principle - and the result is a plan for new legislation that will effectively balance environmental and economic interests, while protecting and preserving landowner's rights."

Under the agreement energy producers will get the reform they pushed for throughout the session by allowing defendants in the cases to admit liability for environmental remediation without admitting liability for damages beyond the cost of cleanup of polluted sites.

The compromise version will provide added oversight of cleanup plans for each polluted site.

In the version pushed by the energy industry, the Department of Natural Resources alone would have been tapped to develop a remediation plan to be introduced in court as evidence.

The compromise plan will bring in remediation oversight by allowing analysis and comments by the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality and the Commissioner of Agriculture, in addition to the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources.

Landry warned that although the compromise announcement is promising, trial attorneys and other interested parties on the landowner's side of the issue may still try to sink the plan.

"With just over two weeks left in the Legislative Session, the clock is ticking," she said.

"It's clear that those who are profiting from the flaws in the current system will continue to seek ways to preserve it, making it imperative that our leaders in the House and Senate quickly come together to pass these important reforms as agreed to. Louisiana's system for handling these abusive suits has been broken, and fixing it now is the only way forward that makes sense for Louisiana's citizens and our state's job base."

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