Texas legal environment improves

Chris Rizo Mar. 22, 2010, 12:01am

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline)-The legal climate in Texas has improved over the past seven years but Beaumont is still getting negative national attention, a survey released today of top corporate lawyers and business executives shows.

A Harris Interactive survey shows that since 2002, courtroom fairness in the Lone Star State has improved. This year, state ranked 36th in the nation for court fairness, up from 2002 and 2003, when Texas ranked 46th in the nation.

The survey asked 1,482 corporate lawyers and executives about various aspects of states' legal systems, including venue requirements, discovery, damage awards, jury fairness and judges' competence.

Overall, Texas received middle-of-the-road rankings. But, 9 percent of the survey's respondents voluntarily said they felt that Texas has an unreasonable litigation environment. Another 3 percent said so specifically of Beaumont, and 3 percent said so of East Texas in general.

Of the survey's respondents, 56 percent said they believe the fairness and reasonableness of state court liability systems in America is fair or poor, while 44 percent said they saw the system as excellent or pretty good.

"A state's poor legal climate negatively impacts its economic environment, discourages business expansion and slows the creation of new jobs," said Lisa Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

The Harris survey, taken from October to January, was commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which owns this publication.

Of respondents, more than two-thirds said a state's legal environment is a key factor in making strategic business decisions at their company, such as where to expand or locate.

The survey's margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. The study was conducted by New York-based Harris Interactive.

Highlighting how lawsuits cost local businesses, the Institute for Legal Reform announced a new national advertising campaign. The effort, dubbed "Jobs, Not Lawsuits," will include two-minute movie trailers on more than 300 movie screens around the country.

One of the spots features the story of Mike Carter of Monroe, La., whose company, Monroe Rubber and Gasket, has been fighting a spate of more than 100 asbestos-related lawsuits even though the company has not handled anything related to asbestos in more than two decades.

Even then, the company was an intermediary seller of some materials that contained encapsulated asbestos, which remains legal.

"The silver screen is the perfect place to tell these true stories of businesses that have been victimized by an unfair legal system," Rickard said. "We want people to see the real life consequences of these lawsuits."

For the State Liability Systems Ranking Study, Harris Interactive surveyed general counsels and senior attorneys or executives in companies with annual revenues of at least $100 million. Respondents were asked to rank how states treat tort, contract and class action litigation.

Nationally, Delaware continues to have the best legal climate in the United States, while West Virginia still holds the distinction of having the most anti-business courts in the nation.

Other states with the most favorable legal environments were North Dakota, Nebraska, Indiana, and Iowa. At the bottom of the list are California, Alabama, Mississippi and West Virginia.

Delaware has been ranked No. 1 in the annual survey for the past seven years, while West Virginia has placed dead last for four years.

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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