CHARLESTON – As a small business owner, I pay close attention to the costs associated with running my business.

I make decisions, like hiring new employees or buying new equipment, based on those costs.

One of my biggest fears is a meritless, abusive lawsuit against my small business.

In West Virginia, an expensive and abusive lawsuit can devastate a small business. The reality is, however, that these types of lawsuits are all too common. In many cases, fighting a lawsuit, even one without merit, can be more expensive than settling out of court.

Some greedy personal injury lawyers count on this fact with the hope of securing a “jackpot justice” payday from small business owners who don’t have the resources to fight junk lawsuits in the courtroom. These lawsuits clog our court system and slow down justice for those with legitimate claims.

In December, the American Tort Reform Foundation released its annual “Judicial Hellholes” report, which included West Virginia. The report cited our Supreme Court of Appeals for abandoning traditional law and expanding liability, and it highlighted two personal injury lawyers who abused our legal system and were found liable for fraud and racketeering over bogus claims.

West Virginia’s legal system has fallen 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 abusive lawsuits by illegal trespassers.

Small businesses are key engines of job creation. Passing lawsuit reforms will create jobs in West Virginia. According to a business advocacy organization, approximately seven in ten small business owners say that a lawsuit would force them to reduce benefits for current employees and hold back on hiring new ones.

Small businesses will flourish when our legal system is fair and impartial, when “jackpot justice” is reigned in, and when abusive, meritless lawsuits are exposed. The bottom line is that when job creators face abusive lawsuits, we all pay and we all lose.

The only people who win are those personal injury lawyers who file abusive lawsuits and have become rich off of our broken legal system.

We desperately need good jobs and more economic growth in West Virginia. The desperate state of jobs in West Virginia was recently referenced in a Jan. 14th Wall Street Journal Market Watch piece, entitled “The only state where less than half its civilians work.”

It’s a positive sign that leaders like State Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead support lawsuit reforms. The newly sworn-in Legislature has the opportunity to do more for lawsuit reforms and ensure a fair and unbiased lawsuit system than any time in recent history.

If our state leaders act boldly on legal reforms, we will attract more job creators, see our existing businesses grow, and experience a boost to our economy.

Zobrist is a small business owner from Greenbrier County. He is also Chairman of the Board of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

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