Earlier in March, the state’s Legislature passed House Bill 4120, which would prohibit such demands in ad damnum clauses. Exceptions are provided by the bill for cases when a specific amount is necessary for obtaining or preserving jurisdiction or otherwise required by an existing statute or rule. A similar law for medical malpractice cases is already in place.
West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin received the bill on Monday, March 17 after it was unanimously passed by both the House and Senate.
Teresa Toriseva, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice, mentioned two lawsuits filed in 2007 which helped trigger public perception about “frivolous” suits, although both were outside of “the accepted practice of responsible attorneys.”
In one case, a judge in Washington, D.C. filed a $54 million suit against a dry cleaner for losing a pair of pants. The other was a West Virginia suit for $10 million filed against McDonald’s for putting cheese on a hamburger.
According to Toriseva, both received national attention but would not have attracted any attention had the attorneys filing the cases not included large, unjustified financial demands. She says that the legislation would help ensure that the evidence in the case fully supports the damages being sought.
Bob Massie, a Huntington, West Virginia attorney, says that it will help the perception of West Virginia’s judicial system. He says that some attorneys were abusing the practice for the sake of publicity or attention, which harmed the state through the backlash.