Understanding the Legal Process | EZ Justice, PLC

Lawyers Like State’s Civil Liability System
Jan 24, 2002
BY ALAN COOPER
TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITER
© 2002, Richmond Newspapers Inc.

Top corporate counsels view Virginia’s civil liability system as the second most favorable to business among the 50 states, according to a survey conducted by Harris Interactive.
Only Delaware ranked higher. Washington, Kansas and Iowa rounded out the top five. Those perceived as the worst were Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.
Hired by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Harris Interactive made the ratings based on phone interviews with 824 senior attorneys at companies with annual revenue of at least $100 million. Almost half were from companies with annual revenue of $1 billion or more.
The respondents were asked to rank the states in areas such as the overall treatment of tort and contract litigation, class actions, punitive damages, timeliness and the impartiality and competence of judges, and the predictability and fairness of juries.
Virginia was in the top five in the overall treatment of litigation, punitive damages, timeliness and judicial competence. The state ranked 19th in jury predictability and 15th in fairness of juries.
More than three-fourths of the respondents said a state’s litigation environment could affect such important decisions as where to locate or do business. Fifty-seven percent ranked the country’s state court liability system as “fair” or “poor.”
In announcing the survey, Thomas Donohue, president and chief executive of the chamber, said, “The degree to which a state is willing to protect business owners from money-hungry class-action lawyers is the degree to which they’ll find business eager to work there.” Virginia must be especially attractive on that point because it does not allow class-action suits.
Stephen W. Bricker, a Richmond lawyer and former president of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, said he was hardly surprised the state’s civil system would be considered pro-business.
He said he often has to advise residents of Northeastern states involved in traffic cases in Virginia that a judgment in their favor is likely to be smaller and more difficult to obtain than it would be in their home states, even though Virginia processes cases quickly.

“The speed of litigation in Virginia I think benefits everybody, but the rules as you get there and the end result in Virginia is substantially, if not dramatically, more conservative than [for] our neighbors to the northeast and to our south,” Bricker said.
He said the state’s ranking is based on an unusual combination of things. “We have very restrictive consumer laws. We have fairly restrictive protections in terms of people going under bankruptcy. We have no class actions, fairly conservative laws on personal injury recoveries and overall conservative juries.”