Half of potential jurors in West Virginia believe lawsuits hurt our state's economy, according to a poll released this week.
24 percent said lawsuits have a "very negative" impact. 22 percent said they have a "somewhat negative" impact, according to Mark Blankenship Enterprises, a local research firm that conducted the survey.
Those potential jurors are correct.
Certain types of lawsuits almost always are a hindrance to economic production. By tying up and distracting, the suits stifle work and innovation. And money spent on legal fees cannot be invested in activities that foster growth.
We'd bet a large majority of lawyers would agree with the survey. The ones we know are fast to caution that lawsuits might put food on the table, but it is an experience best avoided.
That doesn't mean lawsuits are never necessary. A majority of jurors recognize the negative effects lawsuits can have on our broader lives but they also can tell the difference between cases that need to be tried and those brought only to enrich a few while harrassing many.
A general understanding among jurors that lawsuits aren't always filed with pure intentions serves to make our civil justice system fairer.
Equally important is the fact that jurors are beginning to recognize the impact certain verdicts have on broader society. Courtroom decisions don't just affect the parties involved; those verdicts can indirectly stop or slow investment, chill free speech, drive up insurance rates, and stop business plans in their tracks.
It appears at times that judges and lawyers operate as if this isn't the case. As representatives of the people, it's reassuring that future jurors will be paying attention to the broader implications of their civic duties.
The most well-informed among us are never absolutely impartial. But just because one holds strong opinions, that doesn't mean that presented with the correct facts and law, one cannot be fair.
The real goal is to follow the law and be fair to everyone.