CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association has lashed out at state Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts after he filed a personal injury lawsuit related to an injury his daughter received.
The WVTLA says Roberts' suit is "the very type of lawsuit that he has criticized repeatedly in the media and in paid advertising for the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. Roberts' lawsuit includes a request for non-economic damages."
In the Aug. 22 complaint, Roberts and his wife say their daughter Kathryn was shot in the eye with a paintball and are blaming the family of the alleged shooter, who is also a child. The Roberts say that on Nov. 25, 2004, Kathryn was playing in the woods behind their house with several other children. One of those children was Matt Wooddell, who had his parents' paintball gun, the complaint adds. Kathryn, the complaint states, was hit with a paintball projectile in her left eye, causing permanent damage, loss of vision and other injuries. The boy's parents, David and Linda Wooddell, also are named as defendants as well as Caroline Wooddell, the owner of the house.
As a result of the incident, the Roberts say they have suffered damages for medical bills, loss of income and travel expenses to and from doctors' offices and hospitals.
"For years now, Steve Roberts has led the charge to restrict access to West Virginia's courts," WVTLA President Jeff Jones said. "Over and over, he has characterized lawsuits filed by injured workers, people hurt by dangerous products, and people who were being cheated by insurance companies as 'frivolous.' He claims that these victims were trying to hit the 'lawsuit lottery' jackpot. Yet when an insurer dealt unfairly with him, what did he do? He filed a lawsuit."
Jones calls Roberts' actions hypocrisy.
"The overwhelming majority of plaintiffs don't want to file lawsuits, but they have to because big corporate interests refuse to deal with them fairly," he said. "Steve Roberts has now learned that sad truth for himself.
"It is even more outrageous for Steve Roberts to tell the Charleston Gazette that his lawsuit has nothing to do with the very restrictions he and the Chamber have supported. That's just wrong."
Jones notes that the state Chamber lobbied in 2005 for the elimination of third-party bad faith laws.
"They protected consumers from the very insurance industry abuses that Mr. Roberts is dealing with right now," Jones said. "If insurance corporations unfairly delayed or low-balled your claim, you could hold them accountable in our courts. Now you can't.
"All we have is an administrative remedy with no teeth and provides no deterrent for an insurance company to think twice before cheating West Virginia consumers."
Jones also noted that Roberts' lawsuit includes a request for non-economic damages, which have also been a Chamber target.
"The Chamber has repeatedly lobbied to limit the amount that a plaintiff can recover in non-economic damages," he said. "It's wrong for Roberts to want non-economic damages for his own case, while advocating that they be restricted for everyone else. You can't have it both ways.
"The last resort for most West Virginians is our civil justice system. If it's good enough for Steve Roberts, then it's good enough for everyone."
Steve Cohen, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, criticized the Charleston Gazette, calling its reporting of Roberts' suit earlier this month a "hatchet job."
"This personal matter affecting the West Virginia Chamber president was presented as propaganda from the West Virginia lawsuit industry," he said. "An example of dispassionate reporting, it was not. Such zealous ideological bias should be reserved for their opinion page."
Michael Glasser, an attorney with Charleston law firm Meyer and Ford, is representing the Roberts in their case. Judge Tod Kaufman has been assigned the case.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 06-C-1673