West Virginia’s lawsuit reform


The following editorial appeared in The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register, Wheeling on Sept. 16:

West Virginia lawmakers made strides this year to tackle the problems of lawsuit abuse in our state. They have miles to go. Or, at least, the word has not yet gotten out about how much they did accomplish, if a recent survey can be believed.

Forbes Magazine quoted a survey by the U.S. Chamber’s Institute of Legal Reform in calling the Mountain State the “worst state for litigation” in 2015. Citing an atmosphere in which drug addicts who broke the law in order to get their narcotics believed they had the right to sue doctors and pharmacies, Forbes said companies with more than $100 million in revenue “have the most to lose in states like West Virginia, of course, where the courts have long fulfilled a populist mission of extracting justice for local residents at the expense of faceless, out-of-state corporations.”

To be fair, Forbes did note the state Supreme Court’s decision on Tug Valley Pharmacy v. All Plaintiffs Below in Mingo County was effectively reversed by the West Virginia Legislature even before the court’s ruling came down. But the national perception is still based on that ruling, and others like it, instead of what the Legislature is trying to do.

The 2015 Lawsuit Climate Survey showed West Virginia, Louisiana and Illinois are the three worst states in perceived fairness to businesses that get sued. In that survey, 75 percent of respondents also said the litigation climate is likely to affect decisions such as where a business will locate.

But take note of the word “perceived.” Those in Charleston have almost as much work to do in getting the word out about the changes taking place as they do in actually making those changes. As lawmakers prepare to go another round on the issue, they must also be prepared to shout their achievements from the mountaintops. It will not matter how much good work is done if no one outside our state understands it.

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