West Virginia was listed as a hellhole on the American Tort Reform Association’s annual report for 12 years, from 2003 through 2014. The following year the state finally made it off the list, following elections that weakened the trial bar’s grip on our state legislature and ushered in long-needed reforms.
We remained on the “Watch List,” however, where we find ourselves again this year, thanks in large part to the year-long drama surrounding the self-indulgent excesses of some members of our state Supreme Court.
“The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals experienced a tumultuous year with justices being charged with unnecessary and lavish spending of taxpayer dollars, followed by the Legislature calling for impeachment of all five justices,”said association President Tiger Joyce.
The report notes that the besieged members of the high court “issued a disappointing class certification decision that rejects U.S. Supreme Court precedent and encourages plaintiffs’ lawyers from all over the country to flock to West Virginia courts to file class action lawsuits. Once a class is certified,” it emphasizes, “a settlement usually follows, because the risks for businesses are too great to take the case to trial, making the issue of class certification vital.”
Plus, there were opportunities for further reform efforts that state lawmakers did not pursue vigorously.
“The creation of an intermediate appellate court in West Virginia was one of several reforms that the Legislature failed to address,” Joyce said.
Also left unaddressed were restrictions on the state law allowing cash awards for medical monitoring to plaintiffs with unproven injuries, and the question of whether jurors should be informed if persons injured in car accidents were wearing seat belts at the time.
Still, there were bright spots.
Joyce said “the Legislature did enact an important reform addressing ‘litigation tourism,’ and the Supreme Court rejected ‘innovator liability,’ which would hold the original manufacturer of a product liable for similar products sold by their competitors.”
There’s still plenty of room for reform. Maybe lawmakers will focus on that when the Supreme Court saga fades.