New laws: Tougher rules for Louisiana car accident lawsuits

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BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana motorists filing car accident lawsuits will encounter tougher rules to win damage awards, under a new law championed by the state’s business lobby that takes effect Friday and that backers hope will lower the state’s hefty insurance premiums.

The law sponsored by Republican House Speaker Clay Schexnayder — the most high-profile of two dozen statutes taking effect with the new year — is aimed at lessening the money people can receive from insurance companies and businesses in crash lawsuits.

Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards, the majority-GOP Legislature and businesses lobbyists struck a deal on the civil litigation changes in a June special session but set the start date for Friday.

Supporters, including many Republicans elected with business backing, said the “tort reform” effort will lower insurance rates, which are among the highest in the United States. They sought to not only shrink the number of lawsuits filed after car wrecks, but also to make it harder for those lawsuits to be successful and any damages awarded less lucrative.

Business lobbying groups said the changes would help discourage frivolous lawsuits and promises of big payouts, arguing that frequent litigation is damaging business retention and recruitment in Louisiana.

Opponents, which included lawyers and some Democratic lawmakers, called the civil litigation changes a giveaway to business that will keep people from getting money needed to cover medical bills and could increase costs for court operations — with no legislative requirement that insurers have to lower rates for drivers.

The changes will force jury trials more frequently, so that lawyers have to argue damage claims to more people than a single judge; allow information about whether someone was wearing a seatbelt as evidence; limit the mentions of insurance coverage during a trial; cap certain medical expenses for which damages can be awarded, except in medical malpractice cases or in lawsuits against government agencies.

Among the other laws starting Friday, Louisiana will require driver education courses and the state driver’s license test to include information specifically on parking; schools will have new rules for buying telecommunications and video surveillance equipment; and health coverage plans will have to cover more detailed imaging procedures for mammograms.

Lawmakers approved the bills across three legislative sessions in 2020, a regular session and two special sessions. One of the new laws won passage in 2019, but had a delayed start date.

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