West Virginia’s Attempted Reforms Fail to Curb Abusive Lawsuits: Report

January 16, 2014

A new report released today by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) finds that court rules designed to bring fairness and balance to asbestos litigation in West Virginia have been ignored, contributing to the state’s poor legal environment. Obstacles to Fair Trial: Asbestos Cases in West Virginia outlines how the state incentivizes settlements of even questionable lawsuits by confronting businesses with an overwhelming number of cases coming to trial at the same time, making it extremely difficult to defend cases.

The report shows that asbestos docket judges’ failure to enforce established procedures creates a system tilted against defendants and has encouraged a flood of suspect claims in the state. ILR’s report outlines meaningful reforms that West Virginia can make, including reducing the number of cases prepared for trial simultaneously, fully enforcing existing court rules, and adopting legislation that would require plaintiffs’ lawyers to disclose asbestos bankruptcy trust filings to defendants sued in court.

“West Virginia’s attempts to bring balance and fairness to asbestos litigation through court rules have fallen flat because judges haven’t effectively enforced them,” said ILR President Lisa A. Rickard. “The courts must enforce the rules they’ve put in place. If they can’t or won’t, the state legislature should act to ensure there’s fairness in the system.”

Starting in the early 2000s, the West Virginia Circuit Court in Kanawha County, which handles many of the state’s asbestos cases, adopted a series of rules seeking to better manage its docket and provide a more just trial system. However, plaintiffs’ lawyers consistently defy those rules.

Source: ILR

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