W.Va. still 'fertile ground' for asbestos cases

Chris Dickerson Nov. 28, 2011, 10:45am


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - A recent report by the Mesothelioma Center highlights West Virginia's reputation as "fertile ground for asbestos litigation."

Posted Nov. 16 on asbestos.com, the report notes that West Virginia is the 38th most populous state but is in the top 10 for asbestos-related lawsuits.

It also notes that the Mountain State -- with its many railways, mines, power plants and factories -- has many occupations that lend themselves to such lawsuits.

And, "much of the state's commercial and residential construction is older, too, completed before asbestos was regulated so closely," writer Tim Povtak notes.

He also reminds readers that "history shows West Virginia having plaintiff-friendly courts and sympathetic juries," adding that there is no cap on punitive damages in West Virginia asbestos cases.

"And unlike other states, West Virginia has rejected efforts to discourage out-of-state residents from filing," Povtak writes.

The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said the report should serve as a wake-up call.

"This story should serve as an eye-opener to state lawmakers who have previously ignored the problems associated with West Virginia's legal climate," Richie Heath said. "In essence, the article is a calling card for out-of-state personal injury lawyers to flock to our state courts.

"It is amazing that West Virginia, with a population of less than 2 million people, is one of five states responsible for two-thirds of all asbestos litigation in America. This is a clear symptom of the problems associated with our legal system - which far too often allows questionable claims which have been rejected by other state courts.

"Allegations of asbestos fraud have become prevalent enough in West Virginia that one circuit judge recently required photo verification for plaintiffs filing suit. Surely we can't continue to kick the can down the road, and hope that job providers don't notice the problems with our state courts."

In the report, Povtak also cites many recent West Virginia Record stories highlighting recently filed asbestos-related cases. He goes on to note that the American Tort Reform Association continually lists West Virginia as one of its "Judicial Hellholes," and he notes that Rand Corporation recently included West Virginia in a study of the relationship between asbestos trusts and the U.S. tort system.

The Rand Corporation also has listed West Virginia as one of five states responsible for two-thirds of all asbestos litigation in the nation.

"West Virginia cases are typical of the trend in recent years: one plaintiff vs. a large number of defendants," Povtak writes. "This is in contrast to a decade ago when asbestos litigation was typically hundreds of plaintiffs targeting one major manufacturer."

He also mentions that West Virginia's state Supreme Court has created a Mass Litigation Panel for asbestos cases and a case consolidation process. He notes the required plaintiff fact sheet "that details a significant amount of personal information."

Povtak also mentions the 1,400 asbestos cases filed by Pittsburgh attorney Robert Peirce against CSX Transportation that were thrown out last year.

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