CHARLESTON – Tort reform is expected to be one of the key topics of the first West Virginia legislative session in decades to see Republicans in control of both houses.

Incoming State Senate President Bill Cole and House of Delegates Speaker-elect Tim Armstead both have discussed the topic as the session’s Jan. 14 start date draws near.

Cole recently told MetroNews Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval that tort reform will be at the top of the party’s agenda for the session. Cole also said West Virginia must escape its label as a Judicial Hellhole.

The state’s Supreme Court recently was named the third worst Hellhole in the nation by the American Tort Reform Association in its annual report. The state consistently has been on the list since it was created in 2002.

“We have to make sure that businesses that are both operating here now and that would want to come and relocate in our state would have a stable judicial system,” Cole, R-Mercer, told Kercheval.

Armstead, R-Kanawha, said he expects trial lawyers to put up a fight against the Republicans’ tort reform efforts.

“What we have in mind it’s more of a fairness issue,” he told Kercheval. “It’s not trying to push the balance in one way or another but we believe there are things within our judicial system that just aren’t fair and they aren’t very well-balanced and they are unpredictable.”

As Kercheval wrote in a commentary, “Republicans and business interests have been pushing that (tort reform) agenda for years, but now they finally have a majority in the Legislature to make it happen.”

Kercheval also said tort reform advocates, such as West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, “are reportedly going to tackle the issue this session with not one, but rather a series of bills attacking different aspects of the civil justice system, such as an intermediate appeals court and damage caps.”

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