CHARLESTON – Now that football season is in high gear, a state legal watchdog group says it will be throwing penalty flags on courthouse steps to pinpoint serious state legal problems.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse is recognizing Oct. 2-6 as Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week and has chosen a football theme.
"West Virginia lacks a level playing field when it comes to judicial fairness," said Steve Cohen, WV CALA's executive director. "Personal injury lawyers are spending thousands in campaign contributions to defeat legal reform while they score financial touchdowns."
CALA used a football theme to a radio public education campaign in September which called on listeners to "blow the whistle on unfair personal injury lawyer influence."
Among the football-themed penalty calls made by CALA are:
* Interference: A recent decision by the West Virginia Supreme Court that overturned the state's 2003 venue reform legislation has opened the floodgates for out-of-state personal injury lawyers and their clients to file flimsy lawsuits in West Virginia courts -- clogging them with cases that West Virginia taxpayers didn't file but will have to pay for.
* Unsportsmanlike Conduct: Personal injury lawyers' shameless ambulance chasing solicitations of clients, as was done at Sago, seeking lawsuit profits amid the grief and shock of those who have just experienced losses.
* Holding: Personal injury lawyer interests bankrolling the campaigns of legislative candidates who will hold back progress by fighting needed reforms of our legal system -- and legislative inaction will hold back good job opportunities from coming into our state.
* Off Sides: Failure to take action to prevent actions that "step over the line" of ethical practices, such as:
1. Undisclosed secret backroom deals between Attorney General Darrell McGraw and his personal injury lawyer friends who contribute to his election campaigns and who are hired to represent the state and earn millions in legal fees;
2. Attorney General McGraw's spending of public funds for trinkets to advertise his name in an election year;
3. Attorney General McGraw filing lawsuits to build a political slush fund from settlements where his clients receive nothing.
4. The failure of the legal community to set stricter guidelines to rein in aggressive personal injury lawyer advertising that can scare consumers into filing lawsuits, even when they have not been injured.
* Clipping: An out-of-control legal system where a personal injury lawyer can collect legal fees 20 times more than the compensation awarded his victim, as was the case with personal injury lawyer David Grubb who received more than $143,000 compared to his client's $6,950.
* Illegal Procedure: The use of junk science as courtroom evidence, such as:
1. Bridgeport radiologist, Dr. Ray Harron, who was paid nearly $10 million by personal injury lawyers to allegedly "doctored" x-rays of asbestos victims;
2. The non-existent Dr. Oscar Frye who was listed as the physician who diagnosed asbestos in a West Virginia railroad worker but who has never been licensed by the state and whose office address is a vacant parking lot.
"We could go on and on, but these penalties show how lawsuit abuse penalizes our state -- and in terms of business and job growth West Virginians are left on the sidelines instead of moving the ball forward," Cohen said in a press release. "Job providers look at these factors when making decisions about where to locate new job opportunities, and, more often than not, West Virginia is left out of the game.
"Most of all, it's important for West Virginia voters to talk to their candidates and find out what position they are going to play in fixing our terrible lawsuit abuse reputation that hurts West Virginia workers and their families. That's the name of the game if we are going to address these problems."