WV’s legal climate ranks last in recent study - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV’s legal climate ranks last in recent study

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West Virginia's legal climate once again is the target of a national study, the most recent of which has ranked the Mountain State dead last for the fifth time in a row.

But others condemned the study as "discredited" and "propaganda."

Conducted by Harris Interactive for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, the 2012 State Liability Systems looks into each state to see how corporate attorneys perceive tort liability systems.

Approximately 1,000 general counsel, senior litigators, attorneys and other senior executives were surveyed about states' climates, the Institute for Legal Reform states.

"The Institute for Legal Reform's Harris study has been discredited for years now by both the media and academics.  To continue to release this study as ‘news' and attack the state of West Virginia, its business climate and its courts shows the Chamber's callous disregard for both the truth and the people of this state," said Scott Blass, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice.

The West Virginia Association for Justice says the study was discredited eight years ago.

"The Harris study is not an independent analysis of the nation's legal systems. Instead, it surveys only corporate attorneys who are employed as in-house counsel by corporations that earn at least $100 million in annual profits," the WVAJ's news release states.

 

"By questioning only its most powerful members, the Chamber is getting the results it wants and then issuing this ‘study' as a legitimate analysis of our courts. It's like asking fans at Mountaineer Field whether or not they want WVU to win the football game. It's ridiculous," Blass said.

The state, which the institute says has not ranked higher than 49th, is last in fairness of its litigation environment.  

Why?

The study attributes asserted lack of fairness to a "total lack of appellate review."

 "I know they're working hard to fix some of their systems, but think about a court system where there is no appeal process from a state court to any appeals court at all. It goes directly to the Supreme Court who can turn down most of the cases and this is a system where if you're a general counsel of a company and thinking about setting up in West Virginia, you advise the board of directors and CEO that this is not the right thing to do," said U.S. Chamber President Tom Donahue.

Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, said consequences of the state's legal climate are important to economic growth.

"As our economic downturn has continued, a growing percentage of business leaders have identified a state's lawsuit climate as a significant factor in determining their growth and expansion plans, and the jobs that come along with them," Rickard said in a news release.

"West Virginia continues to suffer from outrageous verdicts, lack of meaningful appellate review, an overzealous attorney general's office, antiquated laws, and frivolous lawsuits," she later stated in the release. 

Results came as no surprise to Richie Heath, executive director for the West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse.

"It's unfortunately no surprise that West Virginia's legal climate continues to rank as the worst in the nation, as we've failed to enact any of the legal reform measures recommended to move our state legal system forward," he said. " The Institute for Legal Reform's latest survey confirms what we've known for years - that the lawsuit climate is a significant factor for job providers when deciding where to locate their businesses."

Heath said lawmakers should take note and work to improve the state's legal climate.

"State lawmakers cannot continue to ignore this problem and hope that it goes away. Rather, our state would be better served by moving to enact the meaningful legal reforms that would finally return West Virginia to the mainstream," he said. 

The WVAJ news release states that West Virginia ranks 39th in the number of lawsuits filed per capita and said, according to a 2009 study conducted by the National Federation of Independent Business, business owners said taxes, inflations and poor sales were the top problems.

Lawsuits were not a problem on that study's list, the news release further added.  

"Here's another truth: our courts play a critical role in protecting the interests of West Virginia businesses.  According to the National Center for State Courts, business against business contract cases comprise more than 50 percent of all civil cases filed nationally. Just five percent of civil cases are tort cases, but one-third of those are tort cases filed by one business against another," the WVAJ news release states.