Larry Starcher is a member of West Virginia's Supreme Court of Appeals, elected to dispense justice for the people of the Mountain State.
So it's a mystery to us why Starcher thinks Bart Morris, a fork lift operator who lives, works, votes, and pays taxes in Virginia, is more important than the 1.8 million men and women he's paid to serve.
Morris, 35, hurt his leg working at an Alcoa plastic food packaging plant in the Old Dominion hamlet of Grottoes, which sits in the shadows of Shenandoah National Forest. His home is some 240 miles and a near five-hour drive from the Kanawha County Court, but that didn't stop him from coming all this way-- and across state lines-- to file his lawsuit for damages over the accident.
To be sure, he was hurt in Virginia on a fork lift that was made in Ohio. But Morris sued in West Virginia-- arguing that the product's distributor has offices here-- because he figured our courts would be the most likely to grant him the biggest cash award.
That our "jackpot justice" appeal whets the appetites of plaintiffs and plaintiff's attorneys, while concurrently serving to clog West Virginia's court system with thousands of out-of-state cases, hasn't been lost on our lawmakers. They acted to ban such "venue shopping" in 2003, on the rationale that West Virginians shouldn't have to wait in line for due process behind guys who can and should more conveniently find it elsewhere-- like Bart Morris.
Circuit Court Judge Tod Kaufman, respecting the law and the people's will, tossed Morris' case two years ago. But Starcher led a majority of our Supreme Court in exhuming it late last month, claiming Kaufman and the law served to violate the the Virginian's constitutional rights.
The U.S. Supreme Court will have the final word on this issue, and we doubt they'll agree that there exists an inalienable "right to sue" in West Virginia, anywhere and anyhow. In the meantime, Starcher's opinion undoes our state's ban on venue shopping, effectively rolling out the welcome mat to anyone who has lawsuit, will travel.
"Open for Business"? Our state mantra now takes on an ominous new meaning.
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