Are West Virginia Tort and Injury Lawyers the Problem?

The West Virginia Record has an editorial about how the three of the top verdicts in the country came from West Virginia and derided plaintiffs’ lawyers as “tort barons” destroying industry in West Virginia and through the country.

Okay, the problem is West Virginia personal injury lawyers (tort lawyers). Just for fun, let’s look at the fact and see about all these tort claims. The big verdict was a $404 million award in Roane County v. Columbia Natural Resources. In that case, 10,000 other royalty owners who questioned the price they were being paid for natural gas produced from their property. This is not a tort claim. This is a company stealing from people. Exactly how should such a claim be handled? Should the plaintiffs have allowed this to go on without question for the “good of industry?” How many folks on the Editorial Board of the West Virginia Record would have refused payment if they were in the class? It is just plain silly.

The second case cited, a $251 million verdict against Du Pont in Clarksburg was not a personal injury case but a lawsuit over Du Pont’s handling of the environmental cleanup created by a West Virginia zinc-smelting facility. This did not involve a single insured person. This involved many people who had been hurt by a very large company in a case where the jury found they did not give due consideration to the environment or the surrounding property owners. Approximately 7000 people suffered harm to their property, and we subjected to significant health risks. What would the Editorial Board of the West Virginia Record do if they sat on the jury in this case?

The final verdict in the top 10 was a $219 million verdict against Massey Energy. The Plaintiff was another big company who was suing for breach of contract. Perhaps if one big company breaches a contract against another big company, they should not be able to sue for breach of contract. Wonderful logic.

This West Virginia Record’s editorial is pathetic. I could argue their position better than they did. There is an intellectual argument that can be made calling some aspects of our tort system in question. I don’t agree with this argument—I think it is dead wrong—but it can be made based on facts and it held by reasonable people. This argument is just plain silly and is an embarrassment to the West Virginia Record and the people it has misled.

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