WVAJ vows to work with lawmakers on reform

By Chris Dickerson | Jan 15, 2015

CHARLESTON – The president of a state plaintiffs’ attorneys group says he believes there are ways to improve West Virginia’s civil justice system, but he says it’s important to strike a balance.

“We believe that there are ways to make our civil justice system better, and we will work with legislators, business leaders and others to make improvements to our civil justice system to make it as fair as possible for everyone” said Anthony Majestro, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice. “It’s important that the system not be tilted to favor one side or the other and that everyone has equal access to the courts, can have their cases heard and fair decisions are reached.

“We believe that we can help make changes to do that.”

Majestro, a Charleston attorney, said the role of civil courts is to “protect every West Virginia resident and businesses by holding those who hurt us accountable.”

“They protect our constitutional rights and our personal and financial safety. If our courts can’t hold wrongdoers accountable, no one is safe.”

As the legislative session begins with Republicans controlling both houses, Majestro said legislation introduced in recent years haven’t been worthwhile.

“Others claim that changes are needed in order to eliminate frivolous lawsuits, but the proposals we have seen do nothing about these bad lawsuits,” he said. “What has been introduced in recent years doesn’t address bad claims, but instead restricts damages and limits recovery for West Virginians who have valid claims and have proven their cases – and that’s wrong.”

Majestro stressed the need for balance.

“It’s also very important for the Legislature not to treat judicial reform as a one-way street,” he said. “It is important to look for reforms that are necessary to protect West Virginia consumers and small businesses.

“A good example is last session’s new law that prohibits a property insurer from cancelling a policy when claims are filed following natural causes and a declared state of emergency. Too many state homeowners and business owners had their insurance policies cancelled because they had to file property damage claims after we were hit by the derecho and Hurricane Sandy.

“You purchase insurance so you have coverage when you need it.  You shouldn’t have your policy cancelled just because you filed a claim.  Last year, we worked with Democrats, Republicans and the insurance industry to pass legislation to close this loophole because it was in the interest of all West Virginians.

“We need to continue to look for more of these opportunities to close the holes in the safety net that the civil justice system provides for all of us.”

The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said the change in legislative leadership has his group excited about the possibility of meaningful legal reforms being addressed this session.

“Many legal reforms in past sessions didn’t have a chance with the different committee agendas or even a vote because trial attorneys held the gavel,” Roman Stauffer said. “That’s not the case now.

“We’ll push for the intermediate appellate courts because we’re the only state in country without an automatic appeal. We also hope the Legislature codifying Attorney General Patrick Morrisey’s outside counsel policy that already has saved the state $4 million. Another topic we hope is addressed is trespass liability.”

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