The Big Verdict State

By The West Virginia Record | Mar 7, 2008

$404 million in Roane County against Columbia Natural Resources.

$251 million in Harrison County against DuPont.

$219 million in Brooke County against Massey Energy.

The numbers are stunning. And put in perspective, they still are.

The three largest 2007 jury verdicts in West Virginia, it turns out, are also among the largest in America.

The verdicts rank third, fifth and seventh in size nationally. That's according to the National Law Journal's March listing of the nation's largest jury verdicts issued by U.S. courts in 2007.

Imagine that -- three of the top seven court-issued jackpots in a land of 300 million Americans from a state that is home to barely 0.006% of them.

And you were hoping West Virginia's civil justice system isn't in trouble.

It isn't if you care to live in a state where the richest folks in town are plaintiff's lawyers, not job-producing industrialists or risk-taking entrepreneurs. If your idea of heaven is a litigation haven, a place where the hopes and dreams of America's big verdict hunters come true, then West Virginia's courts are just fine.

Forgive us, but we prefer that our state become known for its innovative companies, not its tort barons.

The two cannot healthily co-exist here.

Tort barons cannot thrive without baron-esque verdicts that transfer immense, equity-killing wealth to them from corporations. Like the $127 million in fees plaintiff's lawyers will receive as part of the DuPont case -- corporate investment for growth and jobs reallocated to the conspicuous consumption of a handful.

These lawyers will now have the means to buy a megayacht or a private jet. Meanwhile, DuPont may have to defer on expanding a plant or reinvesting in new equipment.

Companies shelling out that kind of cash cannot stay in business long. Or the companies can move to a place where justice is more stable.

Sometimes parasites get so hungry they kill the host to the detriment of all.

So it goes for wild and wonderful West Virginia, home to the biggest jury verdicts in the land, from fee to shining fees.

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