Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 24, 2013

Lawsuit abuse — Reform urgently needed in W.Va.

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Small businesses are key engines of job creation in our communities, providing a majority of new jobs created. Unfortunately, small businesses are also favorite targets of lawsuits, many of them abusive. At worst, a single abusive lawsuit can destroy a small business. Even in the best scenarios, lawsuit abuse can make it harder for small businesses to succeed, grow, and provide the jobs and services our communities need.

Bluefield was the site of an August 7th roundtable discussion involving several small business owners, community leaders, and local elected leaders. The session was hosted by West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (WV CALA) as part of our Small Business Summer campaign to talk with job creators and policy makers about abusive lawsuits and the need for legal reforms in West Virginia.

Across the country, more than one-third of small business owners have been sued, according to the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for Legal Reform. Approximately seven in 10 small business owners say that lawsuits would force them to reduce benefits for employees or hold back on hiring. And, too often small businesses are a target of abusive and costly lawsuits — and this hurts their ability to create new jobs.

We need jobs now more than ever to help improve our economy. On a per-capita basis there are fewer people working in West Virginia than any other state in the country. Our labor force participation rate has been the lowest in the entire country since 1976. These statistics show that we need more jobs and fewer abusive lawsuits.

Unfortunately, West Virginia has been ranked a “Judicial Hellhole” for the last 10 consecutive years by the American Tort Reform Foundation. Our state has made some positive steps in recent years, like the medical malpractice reforms that allowed some jeopardized medical trauma centers to remain open and helped keep doctors in our state, but there are additional reforms that could help small businesses grow and hire more employees.  

West Virginia remains the only state that lacks the combination of an intermediate appellate court and full appellate review as a matter of right. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals can simply choose not to fully consider an appeal, leaving many parties with no recourse after unjust and biased trial verdicts. Our state’s joint and several liability laws are out of line with surrounding states, which greatly hurts small businesses, especially in border cities like Bluefield, where nearby Virginia businesses may enjoy lower liability costs.

We appreciate Senator Bill Cole, R-Mercer, and Delegates Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, and John Shott, R-Mercer, for attending our small business roundtable in Bluefield. The meeting provided a great opportunity for them to hear from job creators in the community about how abusive lawsuits affect their business and what legislative solutions might be proposed to reform our legal system and stop abusive lawsuits.

When we work together to create jobs, not lawsuits, we can raise awareness about those who abuse the system to profit off the backs of small business to thrive, grow and provide jobs and services to our communities.

— Greg Thomas is Executive

Director, West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse