West Virginia's Department of Tourism touts Mountain State abundance to out-of-state golfers, skiers, Civil War buffs and the like.
It makes no such sales pitch to out-of-state plaintiff's lawyers. But they come anyway, drawn by our Wild, Wonderful courts like flies to honey.
Called "litigation tourism" or, in common legal parlance, "venue shopping," the phenomenon brings us law-degreed day trippers with slick suits and dollar signs in their eyes. The main attractions: a jury pool perceived as poised to stick it to business, and a left-leaning state Supreme Court, proud to flex its deaf ear.
But the Legislature is apparently listening, given the net damage these unwanted visitors are doing to our state's economy. From the looks of it, lawmakers are keen on passing a measure this year that would, once and for all, keep out-of-state plaintiffs from clogging up our courts.
That's plaintiffs like Virginia forklift driver Bart Morris, currently pursuing a personal injury claim in Kanawha County against his Virginia employer. Aiming to fatten up his verdict, Morris sued here, rather than back across the border. He now has gratis access to West Virginia courts because a majority of our Supreme Court said he could.
Venue shopping already was banned in West Virginia back in 2003. But last summer, Justices Starcher, Davis and Albright cast aside the law as "unconstitutional" in siding with Morris. They challenged lawmakers -- try again.
Alas, they're trying.
The goal is a loophole-less anti-venue shopping bill that stands a fighting chance to survive an inevitable State Supreme Court challenge. From a West Virginia state Legislature rife with plaintiff's lawyers, that would be something; that would be progress.
To be sure, we'd still have a long way to go, seeing that the impact of whatever comes out of Charleston would depend on the cooperation of judges and voters. The former would need to use common sense about which cases belong here; the latter would need to hold them to it. Or else.
But to those out-of-staters we've actually invited, even baby steps these days stand to make West Virginia more attractive. They're worth taking.