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Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Baton Rouge, Louisiana


When political courage wanes and politicians, often in desperation, search for a quick fix to age old problems, particularly as election times draws near, these men (and a few women) of supposed courage often seek out a scapegoat to blame. “Passing the buck” on someone else is standard operating procedure in the halls of congress as well as the state legislature in Baton Rouge. This is particularly true in dealing with the fact that Louisiana has the highest automobile insurance rates in America, and has for years.

The legal profession has always been an easy mark for the blame. Many people agree with Shakespeare when he said, “the first thing you do is to kill all the lawyers.”  Now barristers in the Bayou State have become the whipping boys by insurance officials and a few legislators, in efforts to divert attention from their own ineptitude of failing to address the real causes for high insurance rates in Louisiana.

Of course there is a great need to address the high coast of auto rates.  Louisiana has led the nation for the past ten years in having the most expensive costs that have made insurance unaffordable for many drivers.  Consumer advocacy website NerdWallet found that drivers in the New Orleans area pay an average auto premium of $4,309.61 a year.

This week, insurance officials announced that, voila–they had found the quick fix that will cause the cost of insurance for Louisiana drivers to plummet.  Simply put, blame it on the lawyers.  That’s right.  Greedy lawyers are working in concert with cooperating judges to see that plaintiffs who are injured in auto accidents get big verdicts.  According to this questionable reasoning, juries will be much more sympathetic to big insurance companies.

In Louisiana, any lawsuit with an award that can exceed $50,000 requires a jury trial, unless both sides agree otherwise. A few legislators and insurance officials, who more often than not dance to the tune of the insurance industry, want to allow jury trials in all litigated cases.  The problem for those who are injured and decide to sue, is that they face drastically higher costs, which have to be paid up front.  Insurance company attorneys can beat them down with piles of motions all related to picking a jury.

Anderson Cooper on CNN has done a series of reports (all available on line) about how the nation’s top auto instance companies purposely drag out jury trials in an effort to wear down — financially and physically — those damaged in auto accidents.  Many insurance departments turn the other way to this calculated effort by the insurance industry to lessen the amount they have to pay out.

Insurance companies that operate in Louisiana are making big profits.  One recent headline in Bloomberg News read: “State Farm Profit Surges to $3.21 billion as Claims Drop.”  Did you get that headline?  “Profit Surges…Claims Drop!” State Farm is Louisiana’s largest insurance company, and it pays their CEO $10 million a year.  So how did the company react to the news of surging profits?  They raised their rates on Louisiana insureds by 3.4%.

Notice that I said they raised their rates.  In most states, insurance companies have to submit rate increases to the insurance department for prior approval.  Bloomberg Business week reported recently that in California, auto insurance rates went down.  Why? Consumer groups point to a voter proposition that required all rate increases to be approved by state regulators.  So when insurance companies are allowed to raise their own rates without pre-approval, like in Louisiana, rates go up.  When pre-approval is required, rates are much less than in the Bayou State.

Allstate, Louisiana’s second largest auto insurance company, was the focus of an investigative series in the Houston Chronicle, where the company was accused of a “carefully drafted plan to deny, evade and delay paying claims.”  The investigation concludes that “the good hands people have put on the boxing gloves, and we’re the punching bag.”  No comment, action, or investigation came from Louisiana insurance officials.

In summary, legislators and insurance officials have turned a blind eye to a variety of problems in the auto insurance field that have caused Louisianans to pay the highest rates in the nation.  Much easier to just blame the lawyers.

Worst drivers in the nation as reported by CarInsranceComparison.com? It’s the fault of the lawyers.

Rampant drunk driving where drivers have recently been cited for 7th and 8th DWIs?  Those darn lawyers.

Louisiana has one of the nation’s highest number of uninsured drivers, many who are illegal immigrants.  Laws on the books require that cars of uninsured drivers be impounded, laws that are rarely enforced.  Heck, has to be the lawyers.

Forbes Magazine reports that Louisiana is a bottom level state for infrastructure — bad roads and poor safety.  Got to be the fault of the lawyers.

Catch my drift?  There are a barrel of reasons why Louisiana leads the nation in high auto insurance rates.  It’s going to take a concentrated effort by legislators, the governor and insurance officials to put a comprehensive program in place that will cause rates to go down.  Looking for quick fixes by blaming lawyers, judges or any one group is disingenuous and will do little to address what has become a financial crisis for many drivers in Louisiana.  Much more needs to be done.


 “Both terrorism and insurance sell fear — and business is business”

Liam McCurry

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers throughout the nation and on websites worldwide.  You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.  (F)


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