Everything in life, including legal climates, is relative.
That's the undeniable reality behind West Virginia's crowning last week as the 2006's number one "judicial hellhole" by the American Tort Reform Association.
The group charges our state has "served as the home field for plaintiff's attorneys determined to bring corporations to their knees," citing a "history of alliances and close personal connections among personal injury lawyers, the state's attorney general (Darrell McGraw), and local judges." We beat out South Florida, South Texas, Chicago's Cook County and two Southern Illinois counties for the top spot.
West Virginia's most aggressive lawsuit-filers are predictably refuting the honor while assailing the honorer. That's their prerogative. But even the strongest counterargument cannot change the fact that, among the thousands of jurisdictions in America, ours alone was singled out.
Over Ohio. Over Pennsylvania. Over Alabama. Over California. Over everyone, ATRA chose West Virginia. When it comes to courts, for whatever reason, our state is not like the others.
What this means in a practical sense is that the members of ATRA, a group supported primarily by corporations, believe courts are more anti-business in West Virginia than anywhere else in the U.S. Or, if you believe the assessment of West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association Chief Jeff Jones that, in fact, everything here is well and good, then ATRA's members are calling courts are the "least good."
However you slice it, we're at the rock bottom -- in the opinion of investors and executives, that is. No doubt, if the trial lawyers and jackpot justice-happy clients had their own annual report -- "Plaintiff's Hellholes" sounds appropriate enough -- West Virginia wouldn't even deserve a mention.
We suspect entrepreneurial refuges like Silicon Valley, Northern Virginia, North Carolina and Washington state would take the cake, condemned for their non-activist judges gallingly reducing multi-million dollar attorneys fees, rejecting venue-shopping or requiring their clients to show evidence of injuries before they collect damages.
That's our bizarro world -- a business heaven, a trial lawyer's hell. Or more accurately, West Virginia is theirs -- and virtually everyone else's.
Look at them, look at us. Where do you want to be?