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Tort reform advocates target asbestos lawsuits in West Virginia

After a recent report labeled the state of West Virginia as "fertile ground for asbestos litigation," tort reform advocates in that state and throughout the country are clamoring for change. The report, which was published by the Mesothelioma Center, stated that West Virginia is in the top 10 states for asbestos-related lawsuits despite being the 38th most populous state in the country.

There are several reasons for this disparity. First, West Virginia is well-known for its many mines, power plants, factories, and railroad lines, all of which are common sources of asbestos exposure for workers and their families. Additionally, a high percentage of the commercial and residential construction in the state is several decades old, which means that much of it was completed before the danger of asbestos exposure was known and before it became heavily regulated.

There are also several legal factors that make asbestos lawsuits more common in West Virginia. There is no cap on punitive damages, and there is a history of "plaintiff-friendly courts and sympathetic juries," according to the report. In addition, West Virginia courts often allow residents from other states to file asbestos suits in the state. This has led to West Virginia being responsible for approximately two-thirds of all asbestos litigation in the country, the report states.

It remains to be seen whether the state courts or legislature will seek change in the mesothelioma laws or court procedure. Hopefully, any action taken does not discourage legitimate asbestos plaintiffs from West Virginia, from Madison County, or from anywhere else in the country from filing valid asbestos lawsuits in the state.

Source: The West Virginia Record, "W.Va. still 'fertile ground' for asbestos cases," Chris Dickerson, Nov. 23, 2011

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