BY CINDY FRICH

MORGANTOWN -- Who has not traveled outside our state and been frustrated that people think we are from western Virginia?

How many good things do they know about West Virginia? Our beautiful mountains, white water rafting, WVU football and rifle teams must compete with lowest per capita income, least healthy state and judicial hellhole.

One reason we lack good paying jobs is because of the legal climate in West Virginia.

This summer, West Virginia became the worldwide laughing stock for a lawsuit filed right here in Monongalia Circuit Court by attorney Timothy D. Houston. The "hold the cheese, please" junk lawsuit was filed July 18, 2007.

This frivolous lawsuit would have us believe that McDonalds owes $10 million because there was cheese on the two QuarterPounders that plaintiff Jeromy Jackson ordered without cheese at the McDonalds on Route 19 & Westover Park Road, Westover in October 2005.

Despite being allergic to cheese, the plaintiff irresponsibly bit into the burger in a dark room in Clarksburg before checking to see if there was cheese.

Even those without serious allergies know to look under the bun to see if their special order was filled properly at a fast food restaurant.

After taking a bite and having a reaction, his companions called McDonalds to complain about the order instead of calling 911. His mother and a friend rushed him to United Hospital Center in Clarksburg. They are party to the $10 million lawsuit because
their lives were put in danger rushing him to the hospital and they suffered mental anguish, pain and suffering and a loss of enjoyment of life.

The lawsuit seeks damages on two counts of negligence, one count of intentional infliction of emotional distress, and one count of punitive damages. The suit alleges that the plaintiff was moments from death. The cost to treat this life threatening incident was $700, which McDonalds offered to pay, but denies all allegations.

Instead of accepting the payment for medical bills, the attorney was going for the lawsuit lottery jackpot! Four employees, McDonalds of Star City West Virginia, and all the way up the state and national corporate structure are being sued.

Well, who knows what will happen now that we've learned Houston has filed a motion to withdraw from the case.

Still, on Sept. 27, Houston was awarded the 2007 Champion of Lawsuit Abuse title. The watchdog group West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse named Houston because his shakedown of the West Virginia legal system and outrageous lawsuit have broadcasted to the world that West Virginia has a broken system. He might as well have shouted across the globe that West Virginia certainly is not open for business and some of us are unable to detect cheese.

There were many contenders for this award. Houston bested the state Legislature who were nominated for their inaction in preventing out of state lawsuits. Ironically, Houston ran for the House of Delegates 44th district here in Monongalia County in the 2006 Democrat Primary. There are enough plaintiff attorneys from our district and elsewhere serving in the Legislature ensuring that West Virginia remains closed for business.

The West Virginia Record quoted Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse executive director Steve Cohen regarding this 2007 Champion of Lawsuit Abuse award, "clearly there is no lack of awareness that lawsuit abuse drives out jobs. Especially this year, Timothy
Houston made certain of that."

So the next time you tell someone that you are from West Virginia will they ask you to hold the cheese, please? That is not so funny if you are trying to recruit businesses to the state.

Frich is a former House of Delegates member and currently a political columnist.

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