Steve Cohen

By STEVE COHEN

CHARLESTON -- No one likes paying taxes, but if you especially don't like paying taxes for things of no value to you, take a good look at the West Virginia Supreme Court's Morris decision handed down last week.

Four of our Justices made the "brilliant" decision that state taxpayers should pay for our courthouses to be filled up with cases from out-of-state personal injury lawyers representing out-of-state plaintiffs -– all in the interest of these intruders making a buck off of West Virginia's out-of-control legal system.

The majority struck down an important legal reform passed by our state legislature in 2003. Thousands of out-of-state cases had been filed in West Virginia courtrooms until the legislature put a stop to it. Even the personal injury lawyer senator leading the judiciary committee saw no reason not to prevent outsiders from taking advantage of our courtrooms.

Anyone wondering why West Virginia ranks as a "judicial hellhole" and as the worst legal climate in the country need look no further for an explanation than this ruling.

In the Morris case, a Virginia resident was injured on the job while operating a forklift at his place of employment, also in Virginia. The machinery was made in Ohio and sold to the Virginia firm by a West Virginia distributor. The worker sued in West Virginia, but a circuit court judge said the 2003 state law required him to toss the case out.

It is simple logic. The guy lived and worked in Virginia, and he got hurt in Virginia. Does he pay taxes in West Virginia, have a West Virginia driver's license, or vote in West Virginia? What business does he have filing suit over here, as if our state court system is some bargain flea market for questionable lawsuits other states don't want?

The Supreme Court's new decision striking down the legislature's venue law opens the door once again to more jackpot justice and litigation tourism.

The Court's opinion is sweeping enough that it will be quite hard to prevent thousands of out-of-state plaintiffs from suing a group of out-of-state defendants in West Virginia courts for actions that happened outside of West Virginia -– so long as the plaintiff can tie one West Virginia defendant to the matter in some fashion. This is the same trick the personal injury lawyers played in Mississippi before that state fixed its lawsuit abuse problem.

Justice Maynard wrote eloquently in his dissenting opinion, that the law "is designed to give the residents of this State, who after all pay for our courts, ready access to them when needed. This can be effectively achieved only by preventing nonresidents from abusing our courts by flooding them with litigation, not because they do not have a forum elsewhere, but simply because they believe they may achieve a better result here."

Thank you, Justice Maynard, for being the voice of reason in defending an important state law that has helped West Virginia and its residents. It's a shame that only Justice Maynard saw the need to protect West Virginia courts from being a playground for greedy out-of-state personal injury lawyers and their out-of-state clients.

Let's keep West Virginia's courts for those who pay for them –- West Virginia taxpayers.

Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Law
suit Abuse, a nonprofit citizen watchdog group interested in a variety of civil justice issues. For more information about WV CALA, visit www.WVJusticeWatch.org or write to P.O. Box 127, Charleston, WV 25321.

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