WASHINGTON, DC—West Virginia’s lawsuit climate is once again ranked worst in the nation, according to Lawsuit Climate 2010: Ranking the States, a study released today by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR). The corporate lawyers familiar with the current litigation environment in West Virginia gave the state a last place ranking of each of the ten key elements used to determine a state’s overall position.
“While the state comes in last, we commend West Virginia’s leaders for taking positive steps to improve their legal climate—a climate that discourages the creation of new businesses and jobs at a time when residents need them most,” said Lisa A. Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.
Two-thirds, or 67% of respondents to the survey say a state’s lawsuit environment is likely to impact important business decisions at their company, such as where to locate or expand their business—up 10% from just three years ago.
“As West Virginia’s leaders work to recover from the current economic downturn, they need to pursue policies that help create jobs by removing the burdens of abusive litigation against local businesses. The bottom line is that West Virginia needs more jobs, not more lawsuits,” said Rickard.
The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive by telephone and online from October 2009 to January 2010, ranks the worst five states for legal fairness as: California (46th), Alabama (47th), Mississippi (48th), Louisiana (49th), and West Virginia (50th).
West Virginia’s legal environment is harmed by the inability of litigants to appeal adverse court decisions. The states sole appellate court, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, has complete discretion whether to consider appeals. The lack of an automatic right to appeal was specifically credited for Chesapeake Energy’s 2009 decision to cancel plans to build a $35 million regional headquarters in Charleston and relocate more than 200 jobs out of state.
In 2009, Governor Joe Manchin established the Independent Commission on Judicial Reform to comprehensively review the state’s court system. The commission recommended that the legislature act to establish an intermediate appellate court. Although legislation was reported unanimously by the Senate Judiciary Committee under the leadership of Chairman Jeff Kessler, a bill to create an intermediate appellate court failed in the Senate Finance Committee in February 2010.
On a positive note, West Virginia passed a measure this session recommended by the Governor’s Independent Commission on Judicial Reform authorizing the state supreme court to establish a business court system in more populous areas of the state. The new court will handle complex cases involving highly technical commercial issues, bringing West Virginia in line with other states and helping to attract companies that may have chosen to locate in other states.
ILR also announced a new national advertising campaign called “Jobs, Not Lawsuits,” which will include movie trailers to be shown on more than 300 movie screens throughout the country, including in West Virginia. It will be the first time that movie trailers have been used for issue advertising in the state. The two-minute trailers feature the stories of businesses that were the subject of costly lawsuits that had a material impact on their companies.
ILR seeks to promote civil justice reform through legislative, political, judicial, and educational activities at the national, state, and local levels.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business federation representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions, as well as state and local chambers and industry associations.