CHARLESTON – Small and local businesses are a major contributor to the livelihood of local communities across West Virginia. They are often the places we shop with family, celebrate over a meal with good friends, or prepare the car for a long summer beach trip. Unfortunately, many of our small businesses have become a favorite target of abusive lawsuits.
In many cases, these meritless and abusive lawsuits can be expensive to settle, and in some instances, a successful lawsuit can lead to a business having to close its doors and let its employees go. These types of lawsuits are devastating to local West Virginia communities and only result in further damage to our fragile economy.
These are the concerns expressed by small business advocates and community leaders all across West Virginia who attended West Virginia Citizen's Against Lawsuit Abuse's "Create Jobs, Not Lawsuits" roundtable discussions this summer. These meetings provided an opportunity to talk with small businesses, community leaders, and elected officials about our legal system, the types of lawsuits they are facing, and understanding of the effects of abusive lawsuits against small businesses filed by millionaire personal injury lawyers.
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, West Virginia has more than 115,000 small businesses that employ nearly 300,000 people. Most of these businesses have fewer than 50 employees, which means over half of all employed West Virginians work for a small business.
In recent years, our legislature and governor have enacted many much-needed lawsuit reforms that will help protect small business job creators across West Virginia. They extended liability protection to innocent sellers of manufactured goods and products for small businesses that are merely reselling a product. The passage of trespass liability means a small business is not liable for injuries that occur while someone is trespassing. Comparative fault reforms will ensure that small businesses involved in a lawsuit where an injury occurred are required to pay only their share of the damages that a jury has determined is their responsibility.
These are just a few of the reforms that have helped small businesses and job creators across West Virginia. We are encouraged that Governor Jim Justice and members of the West Virginia legislature will continue to examine the best ways to ensure a fair and balanced legal system. They should look at areas where our state continues to be far outside the national mainstream, like the creation of an intermediate court of appeals.
One of the best ways small business owners can make sure the civil justice system is strong is to serve on a jury and support their employees when they are called upon to do so. Our legal system works best when we all participate. It is also incredibly important to shine a light on those personal injury lawyers who seek to abuse our civil justice system to profit off the backs of small business owners and their employees by filing abusive, meritless lawsuits.
As West Virginia's economy begins to rebound from an eight-year recession every new job created and every current job is vital to our small towns and communities. More small businesses, more entrepreneurs, and more jobs will mean more prosperity for our families, friends, and communities. We should work together to create an environment of more job creation, not more lawsuits.
Stauffer is Executive Director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.