CHARLESTON – In January, we encouraged newly elected state Senate President Bill Cole, House Speaker Tim Armstead and Members of the West Virginia Legislature to act boldly during the legislative session to address our state’s notorious legal system.
In a bi-partisan manner, Democrats and Republicans came together and passed the most comprehensive set of much-needed legal reforms that our state has ever seen.
These legal reforms will help make our state more attractive to job creators. They will help existing small businesses that are growing and may hire more. These reforms will provide more opportunities for West Virginians and a boost to our economy.
Our Legislature passed comparative fault reforms to ensure that parties involved in a lawsuit where an injury occurred are required to pay the share of damages that a jury has determined is their responsibility. In January, our statewide opinion survey showed that a majority of West Virginians strongly support this reform.
They passed reforms that will help protect property owners from those who trespass illegally on their property and file a lawsuit as a result of an injury. They passed reforms that clarify that a property owner is not liable for injuries sustained as a result of dangers that are obvious, reasonably apparent, or as well known to the person injured as they are to the property owner.
In recent years, there has been a wave of personal injury lawyers exposed for engaging in fraud and abuse in regards to claims made to asbestos trusts. Our Legislature passed the Asbestos Bankruptcy Trust Claims Transparency Act, which will shine a bright light of transparency into the process of filing claims with asbestos bankruptcy trusts and help ensure those with legitimate claims in the future will continue to have access to asbestos bankruptcy trust resources.
Our Legislature added nursing homes and pharmacies to the Medical Professional Liability Act, which the Legislature passed in 2003. It will protect these healthcare providers against out-of-state personal injury lawyers who have targeted West Virginia nursing home providers and caretakers in hopes of “jackpot justice” verdicts.
Additionally, legislators brought our state in line with other states across the country by capping excessive punitive damage awards in lawsuits and in how we elect our judges. The political affiliation of a judge shouldn’t’ be an issue when talking about administering justice in a fair and impartial legal system. Our Legislature agreed and changed our judicial elections to a non-partisan ballot.
Last November, West Virginians spoke very clearly about the direction of West Virginia and the need for lawsuit reforms. All across our state candidates were elected who campaigned on reforms that would ensure our legal system is impartial and fair for all litigants.
I applaud Governor Tomblin, Senate President Bill Cole, House Speaker Tim Armstead, and every member of the West Virginia Legislature who supported these much-needed legal reforms.
Zobrist, a small business owner from Greenbrier County, is chairman of the Board of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.