CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, along with Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, Thursday praised the American Tort Reform Association’s removal of West Virginia’s designation as a “Judicial Hellhole” in the association’s annual report.
Since 2003, West Virginia has been near the top of the annual ranking of judicial systems that it considers “most unfair” in their handling of civil litigation. In the 2015 edition of the report, released earlier today, the association removed the “Judicial Hellhole” designation for West Virginia.
Association president Tiger Joyce called the change in West Virginia’s status a “dramatic move” and the “biggest newsmaker” found in this year’s report.
“For many years, civil justice reform could not be achieved in West Virginia because of the power and influence wielded by plaintiffs’ lawyers serving in the legislature,” this year’s report says. “But after voters on Election Day in 2014 decided to make a political course correction, the legislature, under strong leadership by Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead, made adoption of meaningful reforms a top priority in 2015.”
Armstead and Cole were honored earlier this year by the United States Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform with its State Legislative Achievement Award. They said the American Tort Reform Association’s removal of the state from the “Judicial Hellhole” list is further evidence that the nation is taking notice of the reforms being made by the Legislature.
“The removal of West Virginia from this negative list is a key recognition of the bold progress we’ve made, working together to improve our state’s legal climate,” Armstead said. “For far too long, the ‘Judicial Hellhole’ designation has weighed on our state’s reputation across our nation. Its removal will send a signal to families considering moving here and job creators looking to expand and invest here that West Virginia has changed. We take fairness and predictability in our legal system seriously. It shows once again that bold, positive action can and will break down the barriers we face in moving our state forward.”
During the 60-day legislative session, the Legislature passed several legal reform measures aimed at reducing the impact of frivolous lawsuit filings and bringing West Virginia within the legal mainstream. Among the bills signed into law were a measure to ensure that parties are required to pay only their fair share of damages based on their degree of fault, safeguards for property owners against civil actions from trespassers, non-partisan election of judges and a cap on punitive damages in civil actions.