La. lawmakers seek to lower insurance rates, legal thresholds

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BATON ROUGE, La. (WVLA/WGMB) — Louisiana’s insurance commissioner is voicing support for a legislative package he claims would lower the state’s second-highest-in-the-nation coverage rates.

Commissioner Jim Donelon is endorsing a bill that would hand more car crash cases to juries, by lowering the jury threshold to $5,000. The current threshold for jury trials is $50,000, the nation’s highest. Supporters hint the move would limit lawsuits and save insurance companies money that would otherwise trickle onto a driver’s rate.

Donelon also supports expanding the amount of time in which someone can file a lawsuit, from one year to two. Another bill would let courts discuss a crash victim’s seatbelt usage, or lack thereof during a crash, into trials.

“If we do the bills that I clicked off, we will see relief in 24 months,” Donelon told the Press Club of Baton Rouge Monday. “No question about it.”

Car insurance in Louisiana currently averages $2,300 a year, according to most estimates.

Critics of the “tort reform” bills argue that while judicial changes may save insurers money, they won’t lower rates. Legislation from state Sen. Jay Luneau, an Alexandria Democrat, would stop companies from basing rates on credit scores, gender, marital status or military deployment.

“They’re never going to tell you upfront that they’re charging you more because you’re a widow, or because you’re a blue collar worker,” Real Reform Louisiana executive director Eric Holl said. “They’re just going to give you the rate they get, and the other insurance companies are doing the same thing.”

Donelon rejected the existence of a “widow’s penalty,” in which insurance companies charge women more money after a spouse’s death. He said all women — not just widows — receive higher rates, a gender-based discrepancy he defended.

“I am against education and occupation,” Donelon said. “I am for gender if it’s actuarially proven.” he said.

State lawmakers have drafted more than a dozen bills amid efforts to lower insurance rates and change legal thresholds. They will take up the measures in the legislative session that starts Mar. 9.

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