CHARLESTON – The West Virginia House of Delegates has passed a comparative fault bill, a move heralded by a legal reform group and chided by trial lawyers.

House Bill 2002 is the fourth bill passed by the House this session. The vote was 74-25.

If it becomes law, the bill ensured defendants only pay for their share of the damages they cause. It also would eliminate defendants from being held accountable for damages that are the responsibility of others.

According to a House press release, nearly half of the states in the nation have adopted reforms to address comparative fault.

“The House passage by the House comparative fault serves as the first of many steps we will take to advance fair and impartial measures that benefit all West Virginians,” House Speaker Tim Armstead (R-Kanawha) said. “Our state’s citizens value fairness and want us to take a practical approach to problem-solving, and that is exactly what we will continue to do when it comes to carrying out civil justice reforms.”

Several delegates agreed.

"With passage of this legislation, West Virginia joins a growing number of states that have adopted Several Liability, helping ensure that defendants pay their fair share of damages they cause,” Delegate Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson) said. “This common sense legal reform helps restore basic fairness to West Virginia's legal system.”

“For more than three decades, I have pursued practical measures to address legal reform and lawsuit abuse,” Delegate John Overington (R-Berkeley) said. “I am pleased that we are taking this important first step by passing today’s comparative fault bill.”

Patrick Lane (R-Kanawha) was a lead sponsor of the bill.

“I would like to applaud my colleagues for their cooperation in passing this bill that will help to provide much needed tort reform and will also help to renew confidence in our state’s business climate,” he said.

The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse also was pleased with the passage of the bill.

“We applaud the bi-partisan coalition of legislators in the House of Delegates who supported House Bill 2002,” WV CALA’s Roman Stauffer said. “West Virginians strongly agree that defendants in a lawsuit that a jury finds partially responsible for an accident should be required to pay an amount equal to their role in that accident. This bill brings fairness to West Virginia's courts.

"Our current system unfairly penalizes job creators by forcing them to pay lawsuit costs even when they have very little responsibility for a lawsuit. Forcing people to pay for someone else’s fault drives job opportunities away from West Virginia and hurts our economy.”

The president of the West Virginia Association for Justice criticized the bill.

“HB 2002 is proof that the West Virginia Legislature is not interested in real legal reform.  With the passage of this bill, personal responsibility and accountability are eliminated," Anthony Majestro said Thursday. "It takes away your right to hold those who hurt you accountable, and it shifts the financial burden for that injury away from insurers and large corporations onto you and West Virginia taxpayers.

“Under this legislation, the innocent party has to pay twice — first by being harmed and then not being compensated.  When several wrongdoers cause that injury or financial loss, they should accept responsibility and compensate those who were harmed.  Regardless of the percentage of fault determined for each defendant, each defendant’s negligence is a cause of the harm and, consequently, each defendant should pay.  Our current law makes the large corporations accountable for the those they harm, rather than act responsibly, they are seeking these legal changes to pass the cost to the injured and the rest of us.”

“This legislation will also increase litigation, making it more complex and expensive.  If the goal was to eliminate so-called ‘frivolous lawsuits,’ then why did the House pass a bill that will allow named defendants to drag more defendants into the case — whether there is just cause or not—to try to shift their misconduct onto others?

 

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