On June 30, 2020, the last day of the 2020 First Extraordinary Session, the Louisiana legislature passed HB 57 legislation designed to revise tort law legislation. Although not yet signed by Governor Edwards, it appears he is likely to sign this legislation into law. The highlights of this new legislation include the following:
- The jury trial threshold has been lowered from $50,000 to $10,000;
- If the tort demand is between $10,000 and $50,000, the party demanding a jury must post a cash deposit of $5,000 within sixty (60) days of the jury demand;
- The existence of insurance coverage will not be communicated to the jury unless (a) the jury will decide a coverage issue; (b) “the existence of insurance would be admissible to attack the credibility of the witness under Article 607;” or (c) bad faith is claimed under La. R.S. 22:1973 or against the insurer alone under the Direct Action statute;
- The identity of the insurer will not be communicated to the jury “unless the identity of the insurer would be admissible to attack the credibility of a witness under Article 607.” The Judge will instruct the jury at the opening and closing of trial that there is insurance coverage for the damages claimed by the plaintiff;
- If Medicaid or workers’ compensation pays medical bills, the amount recoverable is limited to the amount actually paid. If health insurance or Medicare pays medical bills, the amount recoverable is limited to the amount actually paid (plus any co-pays, deductibles, etc.). Additionally, the Court shall award 40% of the difference between the amount of the bill and the amount paid. If anyone other than health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or workers’ compensation pays the medical bills, the amount recoverable is the amount actually paid and amounts remaining owed;
- Except for Medicaid and workers’ compensation the jury will only know the amount of medical treatment billed. After trial, the Judge will take evidence relevant to any discounts;
- Failure of the plaintiff to wear a seat belt is now admissible evidence of comparative fault or failure to mitigate.
Importantly, if signed by the Governor, HB 57 will become effective on January 1, 2021. It will have prospective application only and will not apply to a cause of action arising or action pending prior to January 1, 2021.
Chris Jones is a partner with Keogh Cox in Baton Rouge, LA. He focuses his practice on class actions and mass torts, and handles these matters in courts throughout the country. He is a life-long resident of Baton Rouge, where he lives with his wife and four children