The U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform released a study and a poll this week, suggesting lawsuits over coastal erosion threaten Louisiana’s economy and residents are skeptical of the motives for such litigation.
The study, Litigation vs. Restoration, looks into the history of coastal erosion lawsuits in Louisiana and how the current batch could put the state’s top driver of economic growth—the oil and gas industry—in jeopardy, according to the chamber. The study claims trial lawyers designed these lawsuits against the energy industry to get “massive payouts” and bypass a state law requiring parishes to use award money to restore the coast.
The chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform also cities economic research showing lawsuits like these, and Louisiana’s “broader runaway lawsuit system,” costs its citizens. Each household in Louisiana paid $4,000 in tort costs in 2016, the chamber says. And total tort expenses equal nearly 3% of the state’s gross domestic product, among the highest proportion in the nation.
“These lawsuits miss their intended purpose completely,” said U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform Chief Operating Officer Harold Kim in a statement. “The lawyers will get paid first, the residents bear the cost burden, and the alleged problem they purport to be fixing will go unsolved.”
The institute recently conducted an online poll that found a lack of public support for the coastal erosion lawsuits. Of the 1,001 Louisiana poll respondents, 57% said the lawsuits were more about “trial lawyers looking for a payday” than restoring the coast. The poll was conducted from July 31 to Aug. 2, with a 3.2% margin of error.
While the institute’s research questions the litigation approach, the group acknowledges coastal erosion is of serious concern and lays out alternative solutions, such as increased funding for restoration.
There have been 43 lawsuits filed since 2017 in state court by six parishes and the city of New Orleans against energy companies over alleged coastal erosion.
Attorney John Carmouche, of the Baton Rouge law firm Talbot Carmouche & Marcello, which represents most parishes in the coastal lawsuits, could not be reached for comment by this morning’s deadline.