Jeffrey Jones' op-ed piece ("It's time to stop lying: West Virginians deserve the truth," 4/14/06) deserves comment.
Mr. Jones criticizes the number and quality of respondents in the recent ILR/Harris State Liability Rankings Survey, which found West Virginia ranked last in the country in legal fairness. While more than 1,400 senior attorneys were surveyed overall, only those attorneys who are familiar with a state's legal system are eligible to evaluate it. That only makes sense, and explains why West Virginia's ranking is based on 137 respondents (a fairly large number given West Virginia's size as compared to other states and the absence of a single Fortune 500 headquarters). Also, West Virginia has ranked 49th in each of the previous four years' Rankings Surveys.
It is also important to note that Harris Interactive is one of the most respected survey research organizations in the world. Their survey and reporting requirements are the most stringent, and they would not allow reporting of this data if it were not credible and valid. ILR does not tell Harris who to contact and we certainly do not have an opportunity to tell respondents what to say.
Mr. Jones attacks the findings of the annual Tillinghast Towers-Perrin study on the cost of the U.S. tort system, which found the cost of our tort liability system to be $886 per year for each American citizen. He claims that the data is flawed because it includes insurance company overhead. Well, if there's a way to compensate injured people without overhead, we'd love to hear about it. The lawyers themselves are a significant source of overhead in the court system, generally pocketing around 40 percent of the money intended to compensate the injured party, according to legal ethics expert Lester Brickman of the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University.
ILR relies on the Tillinghast study because it is the seminal study analyzing the annual costs of the tort system. Tillinghast is a highly respected actuarial firm and their research has been relied upon by RAND and the President's Council of Economic Advisors, among others. The Tillinghast study does not include insurance industry profits. It includes actual costs incurred in the process of delivering insurance coverage. It is the best and most credible estimate that exists of the costs of the U.S. tort system.
Finally, if the West Virginia Trial Lawyers truly wanted to protect the consumers of West Virginia, they would join, instead of attack, the U.S. Chamber's efforts to make the state's legal system simpler, fairer and faster. The current system is destroying jobs, discouraging new business investment in the state and costing West Virginia consumers their hard-earned money.
Lisa A. Rickard
U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform
Editor's Note: The U.S. Chamber is part owner of The West Virginia Record.