West Virginia is no longer the worst "judicial hellhole" in the country, but it still ranks second, according to the annual report released Tuesday.
Almost every year since 2002, the American Tort Reform Foundation, an offshoot of the American Tort Reform Association, has ranked West Virginia as having among the nation's worst legal climates for civil cases. South Florida ranked as the nation's top "judicial hellhole" this year.
But critics were quick to criticize the report as propaganda, saying it is part of a concerted campaign by large companies to avoid legal responsibility for bad acts.
"This report is not a legitimate analysis of West Virginia's courts or our business climate. It's a humbug, a piece of propaganda release by [ATRA] -- a front group for big money corporate special interests," said Timothy C. Bailey, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice, formerly the West Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, in a prepared statement.
"ATRA was created expressly for the purpose of lobbying for immunity when corporations break the law. It is continuing its unrelenting attach on West Virginia and our civil justice system because our courts are the one place where these corporate wrongdoers can still be held accountable for their negligence and misconduct."
The Center for Justice & Democracy, a nonprofit, nonpartisan consumer advocacy group based in New York, says in a news release that ATRA's members "are largely Fortune 500 companies with a direct financial stake in restricting lawsuits," including representatives from the tobacco, insurance, chemical, auto and pharmaceutical companies
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