CHARLESTON – For too many years, West Virginia’s leaders have worked to attract jobs, small businesses, and spur economic growth while facing the stiff headwinds to much-needed lawsuit reforms from greedy personal injury lawyers and corrupt politicians.
Our notorious legal climate had been labeled unfair by job creators and earned the state a “judicial hellhole” label from the American Tort Reform Foundation.
In 2014, West Virginians were yearning for a new direction and elected new leadership to the West Virginia Legislature. Those new leaders have provided the energy to turn our state in a new, better direction. They enacted meaningful bipartisan lawsuit reforms which opened the door for more economic opportunities for our friends and neighbors and a chance to showcase the talents of the Mountain State.
According to the May 2017 report from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, West Virginia has added jobs, decreased unemployment, and, with an ally in the White House, our state will once again have an opportunity to push toward greatness.
Unfortunately, the millionaire personal injury lawyers long for the status quo that enriched them and using their old playbook are hoping to hit jackpot justice once again.
A small group of very wealthy personal injury lawyers have been peddling lawsuits to resource-strapped counties and municipalities utilizing an untested legal theory around public nuisance laws.
Their plan is to sue wholesale distributors of medicines and medical equipment for the opioid addiction crisis in West Virginia. They have associated themselves with a national publicity campaign around opioid addiction, making our state a source of pity, derision and ground zero for “hillbilly heroin.”
Many of the personal injury lawyers that are filing these untested and unprecedented nuisance lawsuits have connections to the “good-ole’ boy” network of state, county, and municipal government, which they have called upon to gain access to decision makers as they promise lawsuit riches.
Like snake oil salesmen, they have traveled across West Virginia to nearly fifty small towns, cities, and counties selling their plan for jackpot justice.
Many of these millionaire personal injury lawyers have become fond of the public spotlight appearing on national radio and television shows as they spew allegations of wrongdoing and promote themselves. One personal injury lawyer resigned from his recently appointed public office, discharging his commitment to public service, to pursue lawsuits that will personally enrich himself.
As these personal injury lawyers travel across the state presenting their lawsuit plans that allegedly will help communities, there has been no discussion about the millions of dollars these personal injury lawyers stand to make from no bid outside counsel contingency fee contracts with local governments.
Thankfully, these type of outside counsel contracts are regulated at the state level as a result of reforms and the strong leadership of the West Virginia Legislature and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
As we listen to the personal injury lawyers discuss their novel public nuisance lawsuits, it is important to ask how much lawsuit cash will go directly into their pockets.
The West Virginia Legislature should consider reforms that will protect taxpayers from no-bid outside counsel contingency fee contracts at the county and local level and ensure that any lawsuit award from these actions goes to address and treat the addiction epidemic that plagues our state.
Personal injury lawyer “good ole’ boys,” campaign donors, and friends should not make millions off of the despair and heartbreak wreaked upon our state by the addiction crisis.
Stauffer is executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.