CHARLESTON – A bill that would require the plaintiff to pay court costs and attorney fees if the claim filed is dismissed for lacking any basis in law or fact won’t be passed this session, but it likely will be introduced in coming years.
Senate Bill 342 would have advanced the concept often known as “Loser Pays.” If someone files a lawsuit that is found to be meritless, the party that filed the suit would be on the hook for attorney fees and court costs for the defendants. Currently, eight states use some form of the concept as law.
Sen. Patricia Rucker, a Republican from Jefferson County, sponsored the legislation.
“I sponsored the bill to reduce frivolous lawsuits,” she told The West Virginia Record. “Frivolous lawsuits hurt those businesses – small businesses – that are the most vulnerable. Litigants can file action after action pro se, but small businesses must hire an attorney to defend against therm.”
Rucker said she thinks the legislation would, in a sense, level the playing field.
“It makes sure that the plaintiff is convinced that they have a case,” she said. “It also deters the clogging of our legal system to allow for legitimate lawsuit claims.”
SB 342 was introduced early in the session and sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where it has sat since. But Rucker said she likely will introduce the measure again next session.
“The same problem will still need to be addressed,” she said. “I am a proponent of a fair and level playing field. It isn’t fair that a litigant can file an action that puts a defendant at risk whether they prevail or not.
“It’s easy to file a frivolous lawsuit when you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. This legislation levels the playing field.”
She said thinks the legal reforms enacted by the Republican-led Legislature since 2014 have been beneficial to the state.
“The results speak for themselves,” Rucker said. “West Virginia used to make the ‘Judicial Hellholes’ list. It doesn’t anymore.”
Still, she thinks more needs to be done in addition to her “Loser Pays” idea. She thinks the state needs an Intermediate Court of Appeal.
“Everyone should have the right to appeal a decision,” Rucker said.
The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse praised Rucker’s effort to push for the “Loser Pays” bill.
“It’s popular among our members and some members of the Legislature,” Roman Stauffer said. “As the makeup of the Legislature has changed, we’re going to be working with Senator Rucker and other sponsors to get other more support for it.
“Maybe it will be discussed and considered during the next legislative session. Still, we applaud her initiative in bringing it forward.”