West Virginia Record

Friday, April 10, 2020

On the watch list once again

Our View

By The West Virginia Record | Jan 3, 2020


Four years ago, West Virginia managed to climb out of the judicial hellhole we had wallowed in for more than a decade, but we’ve remained on the American Tort Reform Association’s “Watch List” ever since, perilously close to the hole’s edge and perpetually in danger of slipping back in.

“After a tumultuous 2018, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has temporarily stabilized, but all will be up for grabs in the 2020 election,” the association’s annual report warns, while also lamenting legislative failure to pass “long-needed” reforms.

“Legislation to establish an intermediate appellate court has repeatedly fallen short of enactment. A 2019 bill passed the Senate, but failed to advance in the House. Although most West Virginians support establishing an intermediate appellate court, some members of the state’s high court and the plaintiffs’ bar have opposed doing so. The main sticking point was the cost of the new court for the state, which, of course, is ironic given the allegations regarding the justices’ own wasteful spending.”

Another disappointment: the legislature’s failure to enact “a commonsense proposal that would have allowed jurors in West Virginia to learn whether people involved in car accidents were wearing their seatbelts. West Virginia law currently allows the court to reduce a plaintiff’s damages by no more than 5 percent for not wearing a seatbelt, even though wearing a seatbelt is often the difference between those who live and survive a car accident and is required by law. Keeping this law in place blindfolds the jury from fairly considering irresponsible behavior.”

The legislature also failed to address a 1999 West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals decision that allows plaintiffs to collect cash awards, ostensibly for medical monitoring, 

“even if the amount of exposure to a toxic substance is insufficient to cause injury and regardless of whether there is a medical benefit to early detection of a disease.”

Oh well. Maybe we’ll get off the watch list next year. Of course, that’s what we said last year, and the year before, and the year before.

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