Louisiana House OKs Contingency Fees for Attorneys in BP Suits

Lawyers contracted by Louisiana’s attorney general to handle lawsuits arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster could be paid a percentage of the damages awarded, under legislation approved by the state House.

The bill by state Senate President Joel Chaisson, D-Destrehan, still needs a final vote in the Senate on extensive House language changes. The original bill gave Attorney General Buddy Caldwell the authority to use such contingency fee contracts to hire outside counsel in a large range of cases.

The House vote, 73-23 in favor of the bill, came after a House committee narrowed the scope of the bill to include only lawsuits arising from the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the spill it triggered.

Business interests generally oppose allowing the state to use contingency contracts, arguing that they allow lawyers to get too big a share of money that should be going to the state, and that such contracts, with potentially huge payoffs, only encourage more lawsuits.

Backers of the bill said other states affected by the spill are allowing such contracts.

Rep. Fred Mills, D-Parks, said Caldwell believes he needs the lure of contingency contracts to get the best lawyers on the case. Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration backed the bill.

The Senate now can accept the amendments and send the bill to Jindal or reject the House version and send the bill to a compromise committee, which would come up with a version that each chamber would have to vote on before the legislative session ends June 21.

Amendments added in the House include one requiring that contingency contracts be awarded based on “the demographics of the population of the state, including but not limited to geography, gender, and race.”

Chaisson’s bill, SB 731, can be seen at www.legis.state.la.us