CHARLESTON – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Thursday signed a comparative fault bill ensuring defendants only are responsible for their share of damages.
Until now, defendants could be held responsible for more damages if some other defendants can’t pay their share.
House Bill 2002 will allocate responsibility for harm in lawsuits based on fairness, according to West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.
“We thank Governor Earl Ray Tomblin for signing House Bill 2002, which was approved with bi-partisan majorities in the State Senate and House of Delegates," WV CALA Executive Director Roman Stauffer said. "This legislation, which an overwhelming number of West Virginians support, is a step in bringing our lawsuit system inline with other states across the country."
Stauffer said HB 2002 was an important part of the economic recovery package proposed by state Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead to help create jobs and boost the economy.
"There are additional lawsuit reforms that continue to advance through the West Virginia Legislature," Stauffer said. "These reforms along with the ones that have already passed and Governor Tomblin has already approved will ensure that our legal system is impartial and all West Virginians have a fair day in court.”
The president of a statewide group of trial attorneys, however, says the new law will do "the opposite of what its supporters claim.
“It will increase litigation and legal costs for businesses,” said Anthony Majestro, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice. “Those responsible will try to drag more defendants into the case, including those who have almost no responsibility, in order to shift their misconduct onto others. Litigation will be more complex, expensive and harder to settle as courts attempt to sort out the relative fault of all these defendants.
"It also removes our state’s long-standing doctrine for good faith settlement. Those companies that wish to accept responsibility, settle their cases and exit the litigation won’t be able to do so. They will be forced to stay in through the entire trial and pay attorneys fees while others debate their liability. "
Majestro said the law also eliminates personal responsibility and accountability.
"When several wrongdoers cause an injury or financial loss, each should accept responsibility and pay up," he said. "If one is unable to pay, then the others involved should pay that part too. When they don’t, it shifts the financial burden from those responsible onto the person or business that is harmed and onto tax payers.
"Under this new law, plaintiffs could recover less than 50 percent of what’s owed. Those people are getting hurt twice — one by the misconduct and then by not being compensated for it.”