- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - The Republican-led state House of Delegates passed a bill Tuesday changing legal protections when multiple parties are at fault in a lawsuit.

Delegates voted 74-25 on a comparative fault bill Tuesday, with some Democrats crossing party lines. The proposal is one of several being pushed by the GOP this session to change West Virginia’s legal system.

The bill would require parties to pay the percentage they are deemed at fault by a jury, in most cases.

Currently, if a party can’t pay its share of damages and another party was deemed more than 30 percent responsible, the second entity may be required to cover the remaining damages.

Republicans said the legal change would be one of several proposed this session that could make the state more business friendly.

“(The current law) creates an uncertainty among the businesspeople, among the community, and among individuals as to the fact that you may have to pay more than the share of fault that you bear in the accident,” said Del. John Shott, R-Mercer.

Many Democrats said the change would unfairly leave innocent victims on the hook without recovering full damages.

“Should a wrongdoer, as compared to an innocent, injured victim of any kind, bear a greater burden than someone who didn’t cause their harm?” said House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison. “That’s what we’re talking about.”

Shott said he knew of no documented data detailing how many parties end up paying more than their share, but had many anecdotal experiences where that occurred.

Shott called the bill a compromise, pointing out that plaintiffs deemed 50 percent at fault would be able to recover some damages in the bill. Currently, they would get nothing.

The more expansive protections would still apply to several exempted groups: victims harmed by people driving under the influence; those hurt by someone who committed a crime; and people harmed by the illegal disposal of hazardous waste.

The bill action now moves to the Senate.

West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse has been one of the most active groups calling for legal reforms. The nonprofit spent almost $290,000 aiding state Republican candidates last election, mostly through political mailings.

The group, which does not disclose its donors, also recently started buying West Virginia television ads pushing for tort reform.

Republicans are pursuing several other legal system changes, including nonpartisan elections for judges and magistrates and scaled-back protections in deliberate intent lawsuits.

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