Governor's 'loser pays' bill withdrawn from Senate

Bill faced strong opposition from lawyers

By Tom LoBianco
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A tort reform proposal sought by Gov. Mike Pence was withdrawn Thursday by its Senate author amid the threat of defeat in a key committee.

Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, withdrew a plan that would have required the loser in a lawsuit to pay all legal fees after Senate Judiciary Chairman Brent Steele, R-Bedford, told him it was unlikely to pass.

“I talked to Sen. Steele and I felt the best course of action would be to withdraw it so we wouldn’t have to put the Senate through an additional issue with all of the other issues that we’re dealing with this session,” he said.

Pence’s team asked Delph earlier this month to shepherd the tort reform bill and a plan to cut the personal income tax by 10 percent, two pieces of a first-year agenda that is being mulled over by lawmakers. But Delph said the administration was fine with his rationale for dropping the proposal.

“They supported my decision to withdraw it, the top priority for the governor this session is to try to get the tax cut passed and that’s certainly going to be my top priority: to help the governor do it,” he said. “This became somewhat of a distraction to that goal.”

A Pence spokeswoman did not return requests for comment Thursday. Pence has declined to comment on the proposal in a handful of interviews in the last month, and some Statehouse veterans say it caught them by surprise when he sought the measure because it had not been included in his campaign policy “roadmap.”

The “loser pays” proposal would force the loser of a lawsuit to pay all the court costs. It has been sought frequently by conservative lawmakers, but has gained little traction in the Statehouse because of broad opposition from lawyers and various industry groups.

“Good,” said Micki Wilson, executive director of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association.

Steele said Thursday he knew the problems with the proposal well because he introduced the same “loser pays” measure as a freshman House member two decades ago.

Forcing the loser of a lawsuit to pay the legal fees may sound simple, he said, but would create many problems.

He offered a hypothetical case in which a victim of a car accident goes to court seeking $40,000 to cover medical costs, the insurance company offers to settle for $20,000 and the victim declines and wins $30,000 in a court decision. It would be almost impossible, he said, to determine who lost the suit and was responsible for the fees.