This year’s first attempt to pass a tort reform bill, SB 418, The Omnibus Premium Reduction Act of 2020, failed when it was vetoed by Governor John Bel Edwards. Despite having a veto proof majority in support of SB 418 prior to the Governor’s veto, support for the bill fell apart after Edwards vetoed the bill. In a special legislative session Louisiana lawmakers were able to pass HB 57 known as The Civil Justice Reform Act of 2020. We have already written extensively on SB 418 and how it would affect injured victims. This blog will explore the differences between SB 418 and HB 57 and how car accident victims are affected by the changes.
Statute of Limitations (Prescription)
The original bill, SB 418, sought to increase the statute of limitations from one year to two years. The thought behind this, which was supported by both sides, was that if given more time car accident victims and insurance companies could reach fair settlement terms before going to court. Since the statute of limitations is only one year, a lot of lawsuits are filed just to protect an injured victim’s rights when they may have otherwise been able to reach a fair settlement. HB 57 does not make any changes to the statute of limitations for injury cases in Louisiana. Under this law the one year prescription period will remain the same.
Currently, all car and truck accident cases seeking less than 50,000 dollars in damages are heard by a judge in Louisiana. SB 418 sought to lower the threshold for a case to be argued in front of a jury from 50,000 to 5,000 dollars. Governor Edwards wanted the jury threshold figure to be 25,000 dollars, but lawmakers reached a compromise and HB 57 sets the jury threshold at 10,000 dollars. Car accident victims who hire settlement mill law firms or personal injury lawyers with little to no trial experience will suffer the most as a result of these changes. However, since more car accident cases will be tried in front of juries, the legal process for injured victims will most likely move slower and take longer to resolve. This means car accident victims could be waiting to get the compensation they need to cover their medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and more.
This part of the legislation was the most hotly contested. In SB 418, the law limited financial recovery for medical bills to what was actually paid by insurance. Opponents claimed that this left injured victims the responsibility to pay for medical services that insurance didn’t cover even when they were not at fault in the accident. HB 57 limits the amount of medical damages to the amount actually paid, but after the verdict, allows a judge to review the difference between what was actually billed and what was paid and either award up to 40 percent of the difference or decrease the award for medical damages. This will hurt injured victims in the long run and limit their ability to receive fair compensation for their injuries and medical bills.
Currently, judges and juries are forbidden to use the fact that a seatbelt was not worn at the time of a car accident to reduce damages received by an injured victim. SB 418 and HB 57 both proposed to change this aspect of the law. Now if an injured victim was not wearing a seatbelt, this evidence can be used to reduce the amount of damages they receive in court. Proponents of the measure say that people should not be rewarded for failing to wear a seatbelt. Opponents argue that in some cases it will be difficult, if not impossible, to tell which injuries resulted from not wearing a seatbelt.
Naming the Insurer
SB 418 sought to shield insurance companies during car and truck accident trials by forbidding mention of which company or companies were insuring the drivers at fault. HB 57 limits the times when personal injury attorneys can mention which insurance companies are involved to the opening and closing of the trial. Proponents of the bill say that juries are far more likely to award larger settlements when they know that insurance companies will be footing the bill rather than an individual. Opponents of the measure say that lawmakers are shielding insurance companies from paying out what they owe injured victims. HB 57 offers protections for insurance companies, but it does not completely shield them like SB 418 sought to do.
Will HB 57 Lower Car Insurance Rates?
The goal of HB 57 and SB 418 as stated by lawmakers was to lower car insurance rates for Louisiana drivers. Drivers in Louisiana pay some of the highest insurance rates in the country, and something needs to be done to help lower these costs. However, neither SB 418 or HB 57 included a single sentence or any language at all regarding insurance rates. HB 57 just like its predecessor SB 418 does not mandate insurance companies to lower their rates. In fact, insurance companies can raise their rates if they can show it is necessary to provide services. HB 57 much like SB 418 is a special interest bill driven by big insurance companies. This bill does little to actually help Louisiana drivers and only hurts car accident victims. If Governor John Bel Edwards signs HB 57 into law, which he has said he will, the new law will go into effect January 1st, 2021.
You Need a Seasoned Trial Attorney
HB 57 makes trial experienced personal injury lawyers even more valuable than they already were. Don’t make the mistake of hiring a settlement mill! Murphy Law Firm has a team of highly experienced personal injury attorneys that prepare every case for trial. Our team has over 150 years of litigation experience. If you’ve been hurt in a car or truck accident, get help from Murphy Law Firm. Call us today at (225) 928-8800 to speak with a car accident attorney about your case!