2012 Legislative Session
Session ends with personal injury bar flexing its muscles
March 14, 2012
As the 2012 Legislative Session came to a close this past weekend, West Virginia’s personal injury bar gave everyone a strong reminder of who’s calling the shots in the West Virginia Legislature.
Members of the state’s business community were up in arms over H.B. 4486 - a giveaway to personal injury lawyers who want to know how much insurance coverage West Virginia car owners have before they file suit.
Proponents of the measure called it “legal reform” which would supposedly reduce lawsuits, but in actuality the bill only benefits the lawyers - who can now easily access your auto insurance information to determine if a case is lucrative enough for them to file suit.
West Virginia consumers could see a corresponding increase in their auto insurance premiums as a result.
Personal injury lawyer interests also trumped common-sense legislation aimed at regulating head injuries for young athletes. As The Charleston Daily Mail reports, S.B. 340 failed in the waning hours of the session thanks, in large part, to opposition from personal injury lawyers to a provision which would have provided some liability protections for physicians who volunteer their time and services to school athletic programs.
The “objectionable” provision is similar to liability protections already afforded to “good samaritans” in other portions of the West Virginia code, and would have simply encouraged volunteerism by requiring a heightened standard of care for any lawsuit filings. It’s disappointing to see the safety of student athletes take a back seat to the personal injury bar’s desire to sue school volunteers more easily.
The need for legal reform is one of the most obvious issues facing our state. But instead of addressing the real problems with West Virginia’s legal system – such as a lack of an intermediate appeals court, excessive judge shopping by out-of-state plaintiffs, and an extreme medical monitoring standard to name but a few – a majority of the Legislature was busy making our state legal climate even worse.
It’s pretty clear who is to blame for our state’s on-going “Judicial Hellhole” designation.
2011 Legislative Session
Speaker Thompson, House of Delegates obstruct legal reform efforts
March 16, 2011
A legislative session that began with optimism and promise ended with a thud as House Speaker Rick Thompson refused to allow debate in the House of Delegates on legislation creating an intermediate court of appeals for our sate.
At the forefront of this session’s legal reform debate was Senate Bill 307, creating an intermediate court of appeals for West Virginia. West Virginia is one of only ten states without an intermediate appeals court, and such a court has been recommended by two bi-partisan judicial reform commissions over the past decade — most recently Governor Manchin’s Independent Commission on Judicial Reform and the Supreme Court’s own Commission on the Future of the West Virginia Judiciary before that.
An appeals court and automatic right of appeal were the most significant recommendations of Governor Joe Manchin’s Independent Commission on Judicial Reform.
And unlike years past, appeals court legislation looked promising in 2011. It passed the state Senate with bi-partisan support, and was supported by the acting Governor. But it died, as is often the case, in the decidedly anti-reform House of Delegates.
The failure of appeals court legislation serves as an unfriendly reminder that personal injury lawyers — who were the most vocal opponent of appeals court legislation during the session — still control the House of Delegates with an iron fist.
House Speaker Rick Thompson, who works as a personal injury lawyer, received more than $100,000 in campaign contribution from personal injury lawyer interests just last year. And video footage shows the head of the personal injury bar supporting Speaker Thompson at a political fundraiser just weeks before the House of Delegates killed the important appeals court legislation.
Other legal reform measures introduced during the 2011 legislative session faced similar opposition.
Senators Mike Hall and Clark Barnes introduced Senate Bill 578 — which would have kept junk science out of West Virginia courtrooms through the use of common-sense standards for expert evidence. Unfortunately, state lawmakers didn’t even bother to debate the worth-while reform measure.
And Senate Republicans introduced several legal reform bills that would have helped grow our job base and stimulate our economy. But those bills were also opposed by a majority of state lawmakers
In the coming year, WV CALA will continue to push for a meaningful right of appeal and other much-needed reforms, but the likelihood of success will be difficult so long as personal injury lawyer interests control the agenda in the House of Delegates.