An opportunity for legal reform

by Greg Thomas |
Dec. 4, 2014, 8:20am

CHARLESTON – This year’s election was historic in a number of ways and presents our state with many opportunities.

Congratulations to the candidates who won and are preparing to lead our state. The voters of West Virginia sent a clear message: it is time to get serious about jobs, fixing our economy, and creating an environment that fosters job creators and business growth.

West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (WV CALA) was founded over a decade ago by a handful of West Virginians concerned about our state’s legal climate. Our organization has grown to more than 30,000 grassroots members residing in every county. Our members are committed to ensuring that all West Virginians have access to a fair and impartial judicial system.

One of the issues that we hope legislators will address when they convene in January is our state’s notorious legal climate.

West Virginia has been categorized as a “Judicial Hellhole” for more than 10 years by the American Tort Reform Foundation, yet we have failed to enact meaningful legal reform measures that would move our state’s legal system into the national mainstream.

Unfortunately, West Virginia has continued to fall further behind.

Our appellate system, and in particular the state’s lack of an intermediate appeals court, remains out-of-step with the national legal mainstream and is repeatedly cited as a major road block to attracting jobs to our state. Our joint and several liability rules need to be brought into line with surrounding states, and West Virginia property owners remain vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits by illegal trespassers.

Nearly 11 years ago, our state faced a health care crisis as a result of greed-driven excessive lawsuit filings. Skyrocketing medical liability costs threatened West Virginians’ access to care, as doctors considered leaving our state and the operation of our trauma centers was in jeopardy.

The Legislature acted boldly and passed medical liability reforms that fixed the doctor crisis that threatened West Virginians’ access to medical care.

In January, state legislators will have another opportunity to be bold and address our state’s notorious legal climate.

Our state is facing a budgetary crunch, and addressing our jackpot justice legal system is one reform that would have no cost to our state and would be a tremendous step in making West Virginia more attractive to job creators.

State Senator Bill Cole, the likely incoming Senate President, and Delegate Tim Armstead, the likely incoming Speaker of the House, are advocates for legal reform. They will replace two personal injury lawyers who repeatedly have blocked legal reforms at the Legislature and promoted a more-lawsuits-not-jobs agenda in recent years.

We encourage the new Legislature to be bold when it comes to legal reforms. The historic election results provide an opportunity for our Legislature to do more for legal reform and ensure a fair and unbiased judicial system.

Thomas is Executive Director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

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