Last year, Louisiana legislators pushed for one of the State’s biggest tort reform packages since the 1990s in hopes of lowering automobile insurance rates and encouraging out of court settlements. The Civil Justice Reform Act of 2020 (CJRA) was signed into law on July 13, 2020 and became effective on January 1, 2021. These changes are not retroactive and will only apply to any cause of action arising on or after January 1, 2021. The most significant changes include:
Amount in Controversy for Jury Trials. For many decades, jury trials were only available in cases where the amount in controversy exceeded $50,000. In the district court, the threshold has been reduced to $10,000, exclusive of interest and costs. The party seeking a trial by jury is required to post a $5,000 jury bond within 60 days of filing a jury demand. If a party files a jury demand but fails to timely post the bond, then right to a jury is waived. Although the CJRA did not change the jurisdictional limits of city or parish courts, it allows a defendant to seek a transfer to the district court to obtain the right to a trial by jury when the amount in controversy is more than $10,000 and the transfer is made timely.
Recovering Medical Expenses. Before the CJRA was passed, a plaintiff could recover the total amount billed regardless of any discounts. Now, the law limits a plaintiff’s amount of recoverable medical expenses when the sum paid by a collateral source is less than the amount billed by the health care provider. If the plaintiff’s medical bill is paid by Medicaid or under the Worker’s Compensation payment schedules, then the recovery is limited to that paid amount. However, if the plaintiff’s medical bill is paid by their private health insurer or Medicare, recoverable medical expenses are limited to the amount paid by those providers, not the amount billed. The court shall also award up to forty percent of the difference between the amount billed and the amount paid for “procurement costs”, unless the defendant can successfully prove this would render the award unreasonable. Evidence of payments and the source of those payments cannot be communicated to the jury until they have rendered a verdict.
Seatbelts. Previously, defendants were not allowed to present evidence as to whether or not the plaintiff was wearing their seatbelt at the time of the accident. This was known as the “Seat Belt Gag Law.” The main theory behind that statute was that no victim should be penalized for injuries they sustain through no fault of their own. However, this prohibition has been repealed by the CJRA, and defendants may now present this evidence to the jury. This new law now gives defendants the opportunity to raise the defense of comparative fault and reduce or mitigate damages.
Disclosing Liability Insurance. In a jury trial, the existence of insurance coverage shall not be mentioned to the jury unless: (a) the amount of coverage is a disputed issue which the jury will decide; (b) the existence of insurance coverage would be admissible to attack the credibility of a witness; or (c) the cause of action is brought against the insurer for a breach of good faith duty or against the insurer alone pursuant to the Direct Action Statute. In all cases brought against the insurer, the court shall read instructions to the jury noting that there is insurance coverage for the damages claimed by the plaintiff at the opening and closing of the trial.
Proponents of the Civil Justice Reform Act hope that these changes will encourage pre-lawsuit settlements which will decrease automobile liability litigation in Louisiana. These changes will also give defendants more opportunities to jury trials. But, opponents fear that these changes may force plaintiff’s into accepting unfair settlement offers. District Courts are also worried that low value personal injury cases will flood the docket.
It may take some time before Louisiana sees a change as a result of these changes. Supporters never claimed that results would be immediate; however, they are confident that it will have a positive impact in years to come.
If you or someone you love has been involved in an accident, call us today for a free consultation! The Cardone Law Firm is here to help Louisiana residents understand these new laws and get the most for your claim. PHONE CARDONE at 504-522-3333, 833-597-1818 (toll-free), 225-706-3920 (Baton Rouge office), or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org