Despite determined reform efforts by certain lawmakers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s civil litigation environment, especially in Orleans and St. Landry parishes, remains a concern thanks to laws that still permit excessive liability, plaintiff-friendly judges, and close relationships between the plaintiffs’ bar and some state government officials.
St. Landry Parish, in particular, has been one of the major reasons for Louisiana’s reoccurring spot on the Watch List, starting with the 2010 edition, which called out former state Attorney General Charles Foti Jr. and his successor Buddy Caldwell for hiring a group of “profit-driven” personal injury attorneys to represent the state in a multi-million dollar lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company over an issue that had already been resolved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Basically, the pharmaceutical company had distributed a letter to doctors touting the benefits of a new anti-psychotic drug. The FDA later forced a retraction after discovering the benefits and drawbacks of the drug had both been overblown by the company. Although no individuals were harmed, the state filed suit against the company in the 27th Judicial District in St. Landry Parish. The outcome, rendered by district Judge Donald Hebert, resulted in one of the highest dollar judgements in the history of the parish, and possibly the state. According to the 2010 report:
Louisiana sued on the basis of the regulatory finding by the FDA hoping to collect a windfall. The result? An incredible $258 million judgment, believed to be the largest ever assessed in the parish and one of the largest in the history of the state. Attorney General Caldwell proclaimed that the verdict sends the message that ‘those who deceive the state must pay.’ But the real message conveyed is: Beware of Louisiana’s civil justice system — it can lead to verdicts of hundreds of millions of dollars, even without evidence of actual harm.
In 2011, Louisiana again made the Watch List thanks to St. Landry's district courts, this time because of a $15 million verdict awarded to the family of an Opelousas man who blew himself up while attempting to steal natural gas. The man's gas had previously been cut off for nonpayment. The jury ultimately found Centerpoint Energy, the Opelousas man’s energy provider, to be responsible for 50 percent of the $15 million awarded to his family, despite the fact Centerpoint played no role whatsoever in causing the explosion.
Ending corruption in Louisiana's civil court system means getting to the root of the problem, which according to the 2012 list, all boils down to:
[The] INFLUENCE OF PERSONAL INJURY LAWYERS OVER STATE OFFICIALS. In addition to their influence with judges, Louisiana’s personal injury bar also has clout with other state officials. As the $258 million Risperdal verdict shows, state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell hires politically-supportive personal injury lawyers to enforce state law in exchange for lucrative fees based on the fines they impose. He has done so despite a 1997 Louisiana Supreme Court decision that found such arrangements are illegal without legislative approval.
Check out all 11 editions of the Judicial Hellholes Watch List here.