Cohen

CHARLESTON -- Missing pants and a drunken fall from a horse are behind two lawsuits a state legal reform group calls this year's biggest turkeys.

A leader of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse says the "horsin' around" and "taking a small business to the cleaners" help explain why the state has a reputation as turkey farm for frivolous litigation.

"Reasonable compensation to a customer from the dry cleaning establishment for lost articles is one thing," WV CALA Executive Director Steve Cohen said. "But West Virginia employers get the stuffing kicked out of them when greedy plaintiffs demand punitive damages."

Charleston attorney Rick Jones, who works at Flaherty, Sensabaugh and Bonasso, sued Pressed For Time dry cleaners in July, claiming he left his clothes at Pressed For Time, only to find out when he returned to pick them up that they had been misplaced.

The company denies the charges. Jones seeks reimbursement for the full value of his clothing, plus unspecified punitive damages.

The case parallels to a Washington, D.C., lawsuit which earned international attention. In that case, a dry cleaner "was gobbled with a $67 million cause of action over a pair of pants," Cohen said. A court tossed the case and the plaintiff, an administrative law judge, was summarily removed from the bench for his behavior.

WV CALA also plucked from courthouse case files for "top turkey" designation another Charleston lawsuit filed this summer.

Punitive damages are sought here, as well, by an imbibing partygoer who fell while trying to mount a horse owned by the host, who is an attorney.

Shellie Maraman Laws filed the suit June 26 against James Pierson. According to the suit, Pierson hosted a party July 1, 2006, on his property in Kanawha County, at which Laws was a guest. During the party, Pierson supplied alcohol and offered horseback rides to his guests.

While Laws was at the party, she partook of the alcohol and agreed to a ride Pierson offered her. While attempting to get on the horse, Laws fell and sustained injuries, the suit says.

"One would think a drumstick's worth of personal responsibility would keep such a lawsuit out of our courts," Cohen said.

WV CALA rolls out the list of sick birds each year just before Thanksgiving to showcase what it calls West Virginia's "broken lawsuit system."

Past examples have included:

* A Martinsburg restaurant patron demanding $5,000 for gravy he says spilled on his wrist.

* The Nitro convenience store customer who sued after he claims his lip and tongue were burned after he took a bite of a biscuit without being warned "that a cooling time must be observed before eating the biscuit."

* The Ravenswood railway worker who slapped his employer with a lawsuit after claiming a goose that took flight from the rail yard caused him to fall.

* The buyer of a burger in Morgantown demanding $10 million over an alleged allergic reaction to a slice of cheese included with his order.




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