CHARLESTON – Advertisements critical of a recent ad campaign saying West Virginia legal climate is the least fair in the nation have begun airing radio stations across the state.
The Consumer Protection Alliance, a nonprofit arm of the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, began airing the ads April 10 on West Virginia Radio Corporation stations during the morning news and "TalkLine" programs.
"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is running ads to convince you that lawsuits and the legal system are costing each American $886 dollars a year," the ad begins. "But the Wall Street Journal reports that figure 'includes payments that don't involve the legal system at all.'"
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform released the 2006 State Liability Systems Ranking Study on March 27. The study, now its fifth year, found that West Virginia courts are among the least fair and reasonable jurisdictions in the country. In the previous four years, West Virginia had ranked 49th, just ahead of Mississippi each year.
That $886 figure refers to a Tillinghast-Towers Perrin report on legal system costs that says the legal system costs each American $886 per year. The ILR used that figure in its radio ads. The trial lawyers group says the ads are misleading because it says the Tillinghast study has been discredited because the total figure includes insurance industry overhead costs.
"So why is the Chamber lying?" the ad continues. "Maybe it's the same reason they want to tax consumers for buying fuel efficient cars or why the want to cut off workers comp benefits to the widows and orphans of miners killed on the job.
"Maybe it's because the truth isn't worth as much to them as corporate profits."
Mike Plante of the Consumer Protection Alliance, said his group made about an $11,000 buy to run the 30-second ads for the week. He said they'll decide week-to-week whether to continue running the ads.
"The Chamber of Commerce is using a figure that has been discredited by independent sources," Plante said. "They're just lying in their ad. They're trying to make a point using data that has been discredited by independent sources and explained by the authors of the study."
"The Tillinghast study … it's not fair or accurate to include monies spent on litigation. It's about insurance … not a cost of litigation. They (the Chamber) are using incorrect and false data. What does that say about the quality of their argument if they have to lie to make it?"
Plante said the CPA was established in 1998 as a consumer advocacy arm of WVTLA to protect consumers by protecting access to courts.
Plante said his group also likely will be doing some newspaper advertising as well.
Last week, the WVTLA asked radio stations to take the ILR ads off the air. President Harvey Peyton also said his group might take the issue to the Federal Communications Commission by filing a complaint.
ILR President Lisa Rickard has backed up the Tillinghast claims.
"This is a seminal study," she said last week. "It's been done nine times since 1985 by a world-renowned research firm. So it is what it is. It examines tort costs."
Rickard has said she thinks the results of the ILR study simply hits too close to home for the trial lawyers.
"Clearly, the message we're putting out has touched a nerve with them," she said. "West Virginia has fallen to No. 50 because of its abusive litigation climate. What they're worried about is their own pocketbooks rather than if companies are going to be inclined to bring more jobs into the state."
The ILR study was conducted by Harris Interactive. The survey polled more than 1,400 senior attorneys to explore how reasonable and fair the tort liability system is perceived to be by U.S. businesses. The attorneys were asked to judge a number of factors, including overall treatment of tort and contract litigation, treatment of class action suits and mass consolidation suits, judges' impartiality and competence, and juries' predictability and fairness.
West Virginia ranked last in nine of the 12 study categories. Those categories include Having and Enforcing Meaningful Venue Requirements; Treatment of Tort and Contract Litigation; Treatment of Class Action Suits and Mass Consolidation Suits; Punitive Damages; Timeliness of Summary Judgment or Dismissal; Discovery; Scientific and Technical Evidence; Non-economic Damages; and Judge's Competence. The state ranked 49th in Judges' Impartiality, 45th in Juries' Predictability and 48th in Juries' Fairness.