Cole, Armstead receive national legal reform award

By Chris Dickerson | Oct 27, 2015

WASHINGTON – West Virginia Senate President Bill Cole and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead have been given an award for their contributions to reforming the state’s civil justice system.

Cole and Armstead received the 2015 State Legislative Achievement Award at the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform’s (ILR) 16th Annual Legal Reform Summit on Oct. 27.

“Senate President Cole and Speaker Armstead demonstrated principled leadership and were the architects of legal reform in a state that some considered a lost cause,” ILR President Lisa A. Rickard said. “We are optimistic that the historic reforms of 2015 are just the start for West Virginia.

“Every bill passed with bipartisan support, which means leaders here in Washington might have something they can learn from the leaders in West Virginia.”

Earlier this year, West Virginia enacted numerous landmark legal reform laws. Included were laws to properly allocate fault to all parties in a lawsuit, safeguards against runaway jury awards, and transparency laws to discourage “double dip” asbestos claims in the tort system and against asbestos bankruptcy trusts. The bills were passed with bipartisan support and signed by Gov. Earl Tomblin.

“Honestly, it’s a little humbling to be recognized that quickly on a national stage after one session for the legal reforms we took care of for the state,” Cole said Tuesday. “Tim and I might be the ones listed for this award, but we take our hats off to the Legislature. We all worked hard on these bills, and they passed with bipartisan support to move our state forward.

“The fact is we just brought so many of those laws back to center, back to average, back to what states around us have.”

Armstead agreed.

“We have a good team, and we all rolled up our sleeves and went to work,” he said. “We knew this was an area holding our state back. Our chief goal is to put people back to work, and this is an area that has a true impact on how many jobs are in our state … more than what most people realize.”

Cole reiterated that.

“While the average citizen might not understand what we may have done, here is one way to illustrate the value of it,” he said. “A major insurance provider (Progressive), specifically because of the legal reforms we enacted, already have lowered their auto insurance rates by 11 percent. Those rates roughly were double in West Virginia what they were just across the border in Virginia.

“That’s a clear win for policyholders, and I am confident that will extend to other types of insurances and to other carriers. These are the types of reforms that will serve to benefit all West Virginians. We are hopeful it encourages existing businesses here to prosper and grow and that it brings other businesses to the state.”

Cole said he expects more legal reforms to be introduced in the upcoming session.

“We are looking at a number of different things,” he said. “As always, the test is whether an idea can move West Virginia forward. If it does, we’ll take a look at it.

“And, an intermediate court of appeals is high on the list. We are studying that, and we want to make sure we get it right.”

Armstead agreed.

“We are asking companies and people to invest in our state,” he said. “They need to know that if they do have to go to court that it’s going to be a fair courtroom and the rules applied will be fair. But also, they need to know that if they disagree with the verdict, they have the right to a fair appeal. That will provide a great deal of comfort to people looking to invest in the state.

“The biggest thing we need to do is give fair access to the courts. We did a lot in this past session to make sure those rules are fair and to make sure all parties have access to the courts.”

The Annual Legal Reform Awards honor individuals and organizations whose outstanding work has contributed to reforming America’s civil justice system.

The U.S. Chamber ILR owns The West Virginia Record.

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