Forbes Magazine (circ. 900,000) proclaimed earlier this month that West Virginia was the second-worst state in the U.S. in which to do business. Only Louisiana, most recently at the epicenter of Hurricane Katrina, is worse than us.
Here's betting Jeffrey T. Jones dismissed the rating as merely more pro-corporate propaganda.
Jones, a personal injury lawyer in Charleston and president of the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, probably uttered even choicer words than that. Last week on these pages, he called The Record "outrageous" and "asinine" for suggesting lawsuits had culpablilty in the closing of Putnam General Hospital. We're also "callous," but nonetheless, still happy to provide him with a forum.
In our view, it's only through the perspectives of plaintiff's attorneys like Jones, whose livings are culled from court-ordered damage awards, that we mere mortals truly can understand how our court system ever got this way.
How did horrible tragedies suddenly become opportunities for families and lawyers to pile up generational wealth? How did other people's lawsuits start so impacting our broader communities, driving away doctors, driving up insurance rates and scaring away jobs?
The answers lie in the sensibilities of people like Jones, whose job it is to find victims and find them the most justice possible. When a lawyer gets a third or more of the money awarded in a verdict or settlement, they are incentivized to aim high. And thus they do, to often at the indirect expense of you and I.
That's what really happened in the case of Dr. John King and Putnam General.
Patients were horribly injured and even killed, and nobody has suggested they aren't due fair compensation for their tragedy. But their lawyers shot for the stars, and it all drove the hospital to try and close up shop.
Should 50,000 people have to live without nearby doctors, all so a handful of victims can walk away with $50 million rather than $5 million? The rights of Dr. King's alleged victims are important, but they shouldn't supersede those of the rest of the people of Putnam County. In this case-- they surely did.
Justice doesn't just mean fair to the parties in court themselves-- it also means fair for the rest of us. That's the "real world" lesson of Forbes and Putnam General, one that we'll no doubt learn over and over again until West Virginia leaders take action to get it right.