Mark Ballard: Some reform supporters have had enough of trying to lower auto insurance premiums

MARK BALLARD | Capitol Bureau editor

After a relentless campaign among Republican legislators to lower auto insurance rates by complicating the filing and winning of lawsuits, some lawmakers last week said they’ve had enough.

“I’m trying to avoid reopening those wars,” said state Rep. Greg Miller, the Norco Republican who chairs a House Civil Law and Procedure Committee that Tuesday shot down a tort reform measure. Partly frustrated by the insurance industry’s slow response after Hurricane Ida, but mostly by the increase in auto insurance premiums, many legislators seem wary of giving the industry further concessions, he added.

“We expended so much energy on tort reform and in the two years since we’ve failed to see any benefits,” Miller said., an industry source that tracks such things, reported in March that its latest statistics show Louisiana rates are 99% more expensive than the national average. “Amongst all the states, Louisiana is the most expensive state with an average auto insurance premium of $2,839 per year, a 19% increase in rates from 2020. On the other hand, Maine, with an average insurance premium of $858 a year, is the state with the cheapest car insurance rates.”

The business community and the companies that insure them have long sought ways to reduce exposure to costly judgments on all fronts. They landed on legislation to make going to court unattractive by increasing the difficulty of filing lawsuits and erecting higher hurdles to win, regardless of the claim.

But changing legal complexities is a hard sell, so business and insurance brought in Louisiana’s soaring prices for auto insurance to rally public support for tort reform. “It is really an issue that is going to excite Joe Six-Pack to call their legislator and press for tort reform,” one insurance industry leader said in explaining the strategy to lawmakers in 2020.

Supporters criticized opponents, often harshly, for trying to block an avenue toward lower auto insurance premiums. The other side countered that those prices were higher because of what’s included in Louisiana ratemaking, such as age, gender, and marital status — not public access to the courts.

One bill died in committee going into the 2019 elections. Another was passed and vetoed in 2020. A third, a revamped tort reform package by House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, was signed into law by Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Two years later, auto premiums are higher and members of … continue reading full story >>>

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