West Virginia, the golden 'hellhole'

By The West Virginia Record | Apr 3, 2009

The conference was in a tony hotel in Beverly Hills, California. And the lawyer was from a tony corner of South Carolina.

But Anne McGinness Kearse was talking about our West Virginia, talking it up to counter the harsh words of critics of the plaintiff's bar.

"We're a so-called (judicial) hellhole," she told a crowd of fellow asbestos lawyers, referring to West Virginia. "But the hellhole is all the problems people are having from working in these plants."

That "we" didn't include Ms. Kearse. She works at the law firm of Motley Rice, in a majestic office building on the harbor with a beautiful skyline view of the other Charleston, the one where the first shots of the Civil War were fired.

Her digs have been fondly described as "class A+, with marble and exotic African Sepile wood elevator lobbies, and cherry floors." Those fancy lobbies and floors aren't cheap. Which may explain why Kearse, a trial lawyer, has become somewhat possessive of the Mountain State.

Speaking before a gaggle of lawyers at a conference on asbestos litigation last month, Ms. Kearse was singing this state's praises as the most awesome place to sue.

Ms Kearse views West Virginia as a goose who laid her golden egg of asbestos litigation.

She made a compelling case: our courts are considered pro-plaintiff, juries have been favorable, and we're home to scores of industrial companies ripe for the plucking.

Our neighbor to the south is not such a place.

She said, "You'd have to punch a guy in the face in Kentucky" to win one kind of dubious asbestos lawsuit Kearse likes to file. It's the type of lawsuit that tries to blame industrial firms with poisoning everyone who has ever entered their dusty plants where asbestos might have been present in the air.

"It's ubiquitous," Kearse explained about asbestos. "it's in the air, and even if you don't have an occupation working with it, you do have a chance at exposure."

A chance is all that plaintiff's lawyer needs to take their shot at jackpot justice. And unlike Kentucky, West Virginia apparently offers lots of chances.

Yet such broad plaintiff lawyer enthusiasm begs the question -- is this really sustainable for us? Can we expect to have a thriving industrial economy in West Virginia along with a plaintiff's bar that views us as a golden goose?

Can we tell executives that West Virginia is "open to business" while at the same time being praised by asbestos lawyers as a ripe place to sue business?

How many Kearse-like floating dust lawsuits can our disparaged plants take before the owners move out -- taking jobs with them?

"Litigating today for a better tomorrow" -- that's the Motley Rice motto.

Better for whom?

More News

The Record Network