By STEVE COHEN
Memo to Jeff Jones, head of the personal injury bar in West Virginia:
You are absolutely correct, according to a recent opinion piece, that "West Virginia is under assault" with release of the annual Judicial Hellhole report, which rated West Virginia in 2006 as having the nation's worst legal climate.
Here is a six-point plan to protect West Virginia from the attack which is driving jobs to other states:
* Stop the invasion of out-of-state lawsuits. Why should we, who pay for our courts, have to stand in line for justice while personal injury lawyers and their plaintiffs from outside West Virginia flood our courthouses? In one recent case a man who lived in Virginia, worked in Virginia and was injured on the job in Virginia on a forklift made in Ohio, sued in West Virginia. Keep West Virginia courts for West Virginia citizens!
* Keep junk science out of our courts. One reason West Virginia is the worst judicial hellhole is the recent case in which personal injury lawyers presented "medical evidence" to a court from a doctor whom does not exist. No record of him at all! A search dog working with West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse went to the empty Huntington lot given as his address. Not only was there no doctor in the house, there was no house! This fictitious physician, these personal injury lawyers claim, certified the x-ray of a potential asbestos victim. The radiologist who reportedly took the x-ray was paid close to $10 million by personal injury lawyers to perform mass screenings of such patients, many of whom were allegedly never seen by a doctor in this lawsuit mill.
* Rein in Attorney General Darrell McGraw. He hires personal injury lawyers whose only apparent qualification is bankrolling the McGraw political machine. They get fat multimillion-dollar legal fees from the state. We need a Sunshine law to hold him accountable for his hiring practices. And when McGraw settles lawsuits, instead of giving the millions of dollars to the plaintiffs, he essentially converts this public money into a political slush fund. He most recently dispensed tens of thousands of such dollars from a settlement with a pharmaceutical firm to an art museum!
* No Proof? No Problem! Change this bogus standard in West Virginia courts that allows lawsuits to be filed without any evidence of actual injury.
* Don't make someone pay for the portion of an injury which a court determined he or she did not cause. This can happen under West Virginia's legal system.
* Prevent personal injury lawyers from collecting fees 20 times greater than compensation awarded to their client, as happened in a recent West Virginia case.
If these reforms were in place, employers would find West Virginia a favorable place to create jobs. The assault on West Virginia's reputation as being unfriendly to jobs by numerous organizations that compare state legal systems will be over.
Cohen is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.