The biggest change in the 2008 rankings is that West Virginia has reclaimed the top spot, after falling to fourth in 2007. West Virginia has been described by a judge as “a field of dreams for plaintiffs’ lawyers.” This is in part because of West Virginia being one of just two states that do not guarantee civil defendants the right to appeal. So West Virginia’s courts have a long, seedy history of awarding damages to those who are not injured, welcoming plaintiffs’ lawyers from other states, and happily tolerating other abuses of the legal system.
The rankings include states like West Virginia and local jurisdictions, including President-elect Barack Obama’s home, Cook County, Ill., which is third this year for throwing out a 2005 state law limiting malpractice awards and a “surge” in new asbestos claims, which catapulted it ahead of Illinois’ notorious Madison County. ATRA downgraded Madison to its “Watch List” after national coverage of lawyers gone wild there forced court officials to start cleaning up their act.
Judges’ too-cozy relationships with class-action plaintiffs attorneys who bankroll their re-election campaigns make it “almost impossible to get a fair trial if you’re a defendant in some of these places,” Richard “Dickie” Scruggs admitted. He should know. Once one of the nation’s most powerful plaintiffs’ attorneys, Scruggs is now doing time for conspiring to bribe a judge.
Baltimore Examiner Editorial