WASHINGTON, DC – West Virginia’s legal climate is once again ranked as the worst in the country, according to Lawsuit Climate 2008: Ranking the States, the annual assessment of state liability systems conducted by Harris Interactive, a leading national market research firm, and released today by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR).
West Virginia’s legal climate ranked last among the fifty states for the third straight year, although its raw score in the study has improved over the last several years.
“While there is still more to do, Governor Manchin and the West Virginia Legislature have started taking steps to improve the state’s legal climate,” said ILR President Lisa Rickard, pointing to the recent enactment of caps on appeal bonds, the slight improvement to the laws allowing out-of-state plaintiffs access to West Virginia courts, and the efforts to rein in the attorney general’s misuse of funds from lawsuit settlements.
“However, changing the law isn’t enough – states also need to make sure their courts correctly and reasonably apply the law,” Rickard said. “Unfortunately, West Virginia courts are viewed nationally as overly generous with other people’s money, with three of the top seven verdicts nationally in 2007 originating in West Virginia.”
West Virginia has languished near the bottom of the rankings since ILR and Harris began conducting the state liability system study seven years ago. The study is the preeminent standard by which companies, policymakers and the media measure the legal climate of states.
Harris asked 957 senior attorneys to evaluate up to five states in which they were “very” or “somewhat familiar” with that state’s litigation environment. Survey respondents assigned each state a letter grade for each of 12 different factors affecting the states’ tort liability system, ranging from the overall treatment of tort and contract litigation to judges’ competence and impartiality. Harris computed an overall score for each state based on these evaluations, then compiled the scores into a ranking of the states.
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