CHARLESTON – A new survey conducted by a legal reform group says about half of West Virginia voters say the economy and job creation are the most important issues facing the state Legislature this session.
West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse’s survey also says 45 percent of voters think lawsuit reform would have a positive impact on that situation.
The WV CALA survey, which was conducted by MBE Research, found that 48 percent of voters say the economy and job creation are the most important issues for the session, which began Feb. 8. It found that 45 percent say legal reform will help the state, while 14 percent said it would not.
“West Virginia voters care deeply about passing lawsuit reforms that will help improve West Virginia’s economy,” WV CALA Executive Director Roman Stauffer said. “Lawsuit reform should be a top priority for our state leaders heading into the legislative session.”
The president of a group of state trial lawyers, however, discounts the WV CALA survey.
“CALA's polling isn't valid,” said Jane Peak of the West Virginia Association for Justice. “It never has been, and CALA gives us no reason to believe this is any more accurate. Prior polls asked leading questions of only CALA members.
“Instead of continuing to mislead West Virginians and lawmakers about our courts, CALA should work with WVAJ and encourage the Legislature to address the real problems facing our state – not the made up problems CALA and its billionaire corporate backers have been peddling for years.
“West Virginia is facing serious issues this year, including a budget deficit of more than $500 million. We need to grow our economy and new jobs, but the legislation being pushed by CALA won't accomplish that.”
WV CALA’s survey also found that 53 percent of those polled believe the Legislature will address the issues most important to them, and 55 percent of them support the creation of an intermediate court of appeals.
“West Virginians realize that we’re an outlier in this area – one of the only states without a guaranteed right of appeal,” Stauffer said. “The demand for an intermediate court of appeals continues to grow.”
The results also show that 76 percent of those surveyed think members of a jury should know whether a person injured in an automobile accident was wearing a seat belt or not. Like the intermediate court of appeals, that is an issue being pushed by WV CALA this session.
“West Virginians are responsible, and they know the law requires you to wear a seatbelt when riding in an automobile,” Stauffer said. “A strong majority believes that members of a jury should hear whether a person involved in an automobile accident was following the law and wearing their seatbelt.”
Another issue being advanced by WV CALA involves changes to the state’s medical monitoring laws.
Their survey found that 80 percent think a person should first prove they have been injured to file a personal injury lawsuit rather than have “potential injuries that may or may not be sustained in the future.”
“Like many other Americans, West Virginians overwhelmingly agree that in order for someone to file a personal injury lawsuit there should be an actual injury, not the potential for injuries that may or may not occur,” Stauffer said.
Also, the poll found that 62 percent think personal injury lawyers advertising on television, on radio, in newspapers and online far too much.
“We have seen an explosion of personal injury lawyer advertising that bombards our daily lives with promises of jackpot justice and lawsuit riches,” Stauffer said. “These often misleading personal injury lawyer ads can be dangerous and cause people to listen to the advice of personal injury lawyers instead of their doctor. A majority of West Virginians believe there is too much personal injury lawyer advertising.”
The survey questioned 501 registered West Virginia voters Jan. 29-31 about several topics related to the state's legal climate. The margin of error is +/- 4.38 percent at a 95 percent confidence level.
“The multiple tort reform bills pushed by CALA and passed by the Legislature hasn't attracted a flood of new businesses,” Peak said. “Independent data shows that it's not a major issue for business. If it's not a concern for business owners and it's not bringing new businesses to our state, it shouldn't be a priority for our Legislature."
She said a National Federation of Independent Businesses poll found that threat of lawsuits ranks 68th out of 75 problems for business owners.
Peak was also critical of Stauffer's claim that West Virginia lacks an automatic right of appeal.
“CALA continues to mislead West Virginians about the right of appeal,” she said. “Again an independent source, the National Center for State Courts, found that West Virginia does have an automatic right of appeal. More importantly, our state does not have the money to waste on an intermediate court that's not necessary.
“The direct and indirect costs will total tens of millions of dollars. Our appeals have declined more than 65 percent over the last decade. The tort cases of interest to CALA's corporate backers make up only 15 percent of the court's workload. It's fiscally irresponsible for our legislature to even consider it.”