CHARLESTON -- A state legal reform group has launched a new Web site to draw attention to what it calls West Virginia's "broken lawsuit system."
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse today unveiled www.wvClosedforBusiness.com. The group says the legal system is one reason why Gov. Joe Manchin is conducting a poll to change the "Open For Business" slogan that currently is on welcome highway signs.
"By retreating from his own 'Open for Business' slogan, the governor has so much as admitted the state is really open for lawsuits that drive out jobs," said Steve Cohen, WV CALA's executive director. "To really make West Virginia open for business, our leaders in Charleston can fix the broken lawsuit system."
Cohen also mentioned national surveys linking jobs growth to legal climate and cited the recent $10 million lawsuit over a slice of cheese on a Quarter Pounder allegedly served at a Morgantown McDonalds.
Also, Forbes Magazine this summer placed West Virginia last among all the states for creating jobs, citing the legal climate as a principal reason. WV CALA notes the same survey placed neighboring Virginia as the best state for jobs. Other such ratings put West Virginia at the bottom of their lists.
"For the last two decades West Virginia's average income has been lower than at least 47 other states and he average wage of a West Virginia worker is nearly $8,500 less than workers in other states," said Cohen, adding that since June of last year West Virginia has seen 1,500 manufacturing jobs disappear from 147 firms which closed their doors.
Lara Ramsburg, spokeswoman for Manchin, said the administration is proud of the progress its made in terms of making the state more business-friendly.
"We think we are open for business," Ramsburg said. "In fact, just this week, we announced that we had not only the lowest unemployment rate for a September, it also is the lowest unemployment rate ever for West Virginia."
Back to Cohen, he called the McDonald's suit a "shakedown" which "shows how vulnerable and exposed employers are in this state."
Some of the legal reforms supported by CALA include:
* Keeping out-of-state plaintiffs from filing lawsuits in West Virginia;
* Keeping junk science out of the jury box, as with the "medical evidence" presented in a Huntington case by personal injury lawyers from a doctor who does not exist;
* A Sunshine Law governing Attorney General Darrell McGraw's practice of deputizing outside attorneys and restrictions on how he distributes lawsuit settlement dollars;
* Elimination of the "No Proof? No Problem!" standard in West Virginia courts, whereby a lawsuit can be filed without any evidence of actual injury;
* Changing the fact that, in West Virginia, someone can be held liable for damages they did not cause; and
* An end to outrageous legal fees, such as in the recent case where a personal injury lawyer collected a $143,000 fee in a court action that netted his client less than 9,000.
At www.wvClosedforBusiness.com, visitors can see how West Virginia compares with other states for legal fairness and job creation, examples of lawsuits here that drive out jobs and information about WV CALA.
Also, voting for the three slogans that made the governor's final cut began Oct. 15 and continues until the end of the month.