Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

A New Volume in Lawsuit History ; Legislatures 2014 Reforms May Move State Up from Last in Next Years Legal List

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

A New Volume in Lawsuit History ; Legislatures 2014 Reforms May Move State Up from Last in Next Years Legal List

Article excerpt

The book on West Virginias terrible litigation climate over the last decade is well-known and oft-cited. But with its historic legislative session this year, The Mountain State is writing a new volume, and the early reviews are very promising. In fact, we suspect that this weeks release of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reforms survey of the 50 state lawsuit climates, which finds West Virginia ranked 50th as it has for the past decade, could be the last chapter of the old book.

The 2015 Lawsuit Climate Survey was being completed just as the West Virginia Legislature and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin were deciding that enough was enough, and it was time to dramatically improve the states litigation environment.

The state passed major new legal reform laws, including:

Joint and several liability reforms, which will give businesses and individuals in West Virginia confidence that they will not be held liable for more than their fair share of financial responsibility in a lawsuit.

A new cap on punitive think punishing damage awards of the greater of four times the amount of compensatory damages or $500,000, which will take away the incentive for plaintiffs attorneys to seek lottery-sized awards.

And asbestos bankruptcy trust transparency reforms, which will prevent future fraudulent and abusive claims on the finite resources intended for asbestos victims. The robust collection of legal reform measures enacted this spring is perhaps the strongest and quickest turnaround imaginable.

Partly this is due to the tidal wave of change that has swept over the state. For more than a decade, the plaintiffs lawyers in West Virginia had a stranglehold on the levers of power. They pulled those levers consistently to defeat any changes to the legal system. This is not surprising since they benefited immensely from the old system that enriched a few, often at the expense of many. …

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