Torts are the laws that govern civil lawsuits and revolve around who can held be liable and for how much. The Judiciary Committees of the House and Senate largely have dealt with moving these laws forward.
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott stated their goals in this reform. “We’re trying to identify features of the civil justice system that contribute to the concept that West Virginia isn’t friendly to businesses and economic transactions,” Shott said.
Though a wide variety of bills are aimed at reforming the civil court system, there are three bills that have been the primary areas of focus by the legislature thus far.
“We’re trying to fine tune laws to produce more certainty and objectivity in the system. People should be able to know what the rules corresponding decisions are in a clear manner,” said Shott, continuing his description of the tort reform bills.
House Bill 2010/ Senate Bill 10 is aiming to create non-partisan election of judges in the state of West Virginia. This would include all levels of the judicial system including West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, family court justices, circuit court judges, and magistrates.
“We are seeking to create fairness in the system. Judges should not be subjected to the political circus and removing parties helps to put fairness and objectivity in elections,” said Shott
The bill would create judicial divisions as well where each judge’s seat has its own individual race. Instead of running by county or district, judges would be assigned numbers and candidates would pick which seat to run against. The thought is to help good judges retain seats while judges that are doing less favorably may be removed without having to rely on party politics. The bill has passed the House and is currently within the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Another bill aimed at tort reform is House Bill 2011/ Senate Bill 2011. The bill would change requirements of employee’s knowledge of danger to employees relating to Workmen’s Compensation payment. Currently violation of any safety statue for workers is viable for payout, even if one is not aware of the law. The bill seeks to change the doctrine of liability to deliberate intent.
“The current law encourages claims that weren’t envisioned in the original intent of the law,” explained Shott. “Claims can be taken out even if the employee is being reasonably aware of worker’s safety. This leads to uncertainty in the system.”
The bill would require proof in a legal case that employer is deliberately placing an employee in an unsafe working condition in order to claim Workmen’s Compensation. Evidence cannot be circumstantial in nature and precautions included in the equipment manuals may also not be presented before the court. The bill has passed the House and is being sent to the Senate.
The final major bill of note so far this session has been House Bill 2002/ Senate Bill 2. This bill aims to change rewards for damages to be based upon principles of comparative fault.
“This would remove unfairness and uncertainty in assignment of fault. Defendants would no longer be held accountable for damages that were not their own,” Shott said.
The current doctrine under West Virginia law is joint liability. Under this doctrine, defendants in a case where fault is assigned to both will be held liable for the entirety of the damages if the other defendant is unable to pay. The new doctrine of comparative fault would hold defendants accountable only for their percentage of the fault.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump said “For a long time, it was all the other defendants fault. I believe we’ve struck a nice middle ground here.” He empathized with both sides stating “It’s hard because it’s a situation when a defendant can’t pay and what do you do? The plaintiff shouldn’t have to pay for his own damages but a defendant shouldn’t have to pay for damages that weren’t their own”
The bill has passed both the House and Senate. The Senate has asked the House to concur with its version of the bill, but thus far the House has refused and asked the Senate to recede from its version of the bill.
Both houses of the West Virginia Legislature are working to reform the civil court system. Shott and Trump are both working to create bills that will institute fairness and objectivity to the legal system. They will try to make West Virginia a state to do business in and be known as a strong legal system.
Senate Bill 7
Senate Bill 7 will require CPR and care for conscious choking instruction in public schools. The purpose of this bill is to ensure students in grades 6-12 be taught proper CPR public health education by a certified CPR/AED instructor for 30 minutes or more.
Senate Bill 335
Senate Bill 335 will create an Access to Opioid Antagonists Act. The purpose of this legislation is to prevent further deaths in situation involving individuals who have overdosed. Which will grant licensed health care providers to prescribe opioid antagonists to initial responders as well as individuals at risk of experiencing an overdose, their relatives, friends or caregivers may prevent accidental deaths as a result of opiate-related overdoses
House Bill 2138
House Bill 2138 is going to add aircraft operations on private airstrips and farms to the definition of recreational purpose. The purpose of this bill is to limit the liability of landowners who make land available for the use of aircraft or ultralight aircraft operations.
House Bill 2217
House Bill 2217 Relating to qualifications of the Commissioner of Labor. The purpose of this bill is to clarify that the Commissioner of Labor be“ identified with employee issues of the state. Instead of the commissioner being identified by “labor interests” no they will be identified as “employee issues’ of the state.
House Bill 2227
House Bill 2227 relates to the National Coal Heritage Area Authority. The purpose of this bill is to broaden opportunities for National Coal Heritage Area Authority membership. This bill will allow three new members to be added to the authority along with the qualifications for Board membership will be expanded so members can work elsewhere than the county they reside in. This will now allow a new committee called “Coal Heritage Trail Committee” which will provide a place all obligations, contracts, grants and assets currently belonging to the Coal Heritage Highway Authority shall be transferred and become the responsibility and property of the National Coal Heritage Area Authority.
Senate Bill 250
Senate Bill 250 would require that if an elected conservation district supervisor applies or intends to apply to participate in a W.Va. Conservation agency financial assistance program then all the applications for that program be evaluated and approved by another conservation district. This bill transfers that authority to the state agency. The bill also precludes supervisors from voting on contractor in which he or she or immediate family members has an interest.
Senate Bill 255
Senate Bill 255 would seek to eliminate unnecessary, inactive or redundant boards, councils, committees, panels task forces and commissions. Such as, West Virginia Sheriffs’ Bureau; Clinical Laboratories Quality Assurance Advisory Board; Care Home Advisory Board and Comprehensive Behavioral Health Commission.
Senate Bill 261
Senate Bill 261 would refine the definition of “owner” of a dam to exclude the owner of the land upon which a dam is maintained by a sponsoring agency from responsibility for repairs, maintenance or damage arising from regular operation of the dam. The bill also further protect the owner of the land on which a dam is located from liabilities for any of the deficiencies of the dam, as long as the owner of the dam does not intentionally damage or interfere with the regular operation of the same.
Senate Bill 238
Senate Bill 238 would limit the liability of County boards of education for loss or injury as a result of the use of school property made available for unorganized recreation. County boards would remain liable for acts or omissions which constitute gross negligence or willful and wanton conduct.
Senate Bill 242
Senate Bill 242 would create a misdemeanor offense for disseminating false misleading or deceptive information with the intent to create panic, violence or cause harm during a state of emergency or state of preparedness. This offense would be punishable by up to one year in prison, $5000.00 fine or both.
Senate Bill 280
Senate Bill 280 would permit the transfer of well work permits, such as in the case of an asset purchase, upon approval of the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. Under current law, well work permits are nontransferable and purchasers of assets must begin the application process over upon transfer of title.
Senate Bill 287
Senate Bill 287 would be known as “Todd’s Law” and provide for the awarding of a posthumous diploma to the parents of a student who died while enrolled in a school district in grade 12. The student must have been academically eligible for graduation at the time of death and shall not have been convicted of a criminal offense or engaged in a felony.
Senate Bill 318
Senate Bill 318 would change the frequency with which employers must pay employees. The bill requires employers to pay employees twice every month. The current requirement is that employees be paid once in every two weeks. The bill would still permit payroll to be processed once in every two weeks but requires employees be paid at least twice every month.
Senate Bill 357
Senate Bill 357 would abolish the Diesel Equipment Commission, transferring its duties and powers to the director of the Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training. Directs the state DEP to circulate rules, considering the adoption of federal standards, for contemporaneous reclamation and the granting of inactive status. The bill would extend the Clean Water Act safe harbor for compliance with NPDES permits to Section 303 of the Clean Water Act, and with all applicable state and federal permit conditions with certain limitations. Directs DEP to promulgate an emergency rule revising aluminum water quality values using a hardness-based equation. Requires NPDES permit water quality standards be based upon the qualities of the individual discharge point and the receiving stream, and not a wholesale incorporation of state and federal water quality standards; Provides for civil penalties and many other workers safety regulations.
Senate Bill 374
Senate Bill 374 would create an exception to the statutory requirement that an inmate attend his or her parole hearing. The bill would waive the requirement where a terminal condition debilitates an inmate to the point he or she will not be able to appear.
Senate Bill 389
Senate Bill 389 would provide statutory authority for a rules bill pertaining to the Board of Registration for Professional Engineers. This bill Changes the time period for renewal from fiscal year to calendar year, authorizes renewal notification by mail or electronically, requires reinstatement of non-renewed licenses, authorizes annual or biennial renewal periods and authorizes legislative rules and emergency rules related to renewal and reinstatement.
House Bill 2004
House Bill 2004 relates to the submission of West Virginia’s compliance plan with the EPA’s new emission standards. The EPA set forth new rules in June of 2014 for state’s carbon emissions and requires states to create a plan to reduce these emissions. The bill requires the Department of Environmental Protection to submit a compliance plan for both houses of the Legislature to approve of the plan. The bill also includes language for the plan to be rendered void should the EPA’s rules not be put into effect.
House Bill 2005
House Bill 2005 would reorganize and revise current laws controlling the certification of teachers through an alternative education program. The bill revises the process by which schools or school districts create and operate alternative education programs in which a person may receive a professional teacher certificate.
House Bill 2011
House Bill 2011 would change requirements of employee’s knowledge of danger to employees relating to Workmen’s Compensation payment. Currently violation of any safety statue for workers is viable for payout, even if one is not aware of the law. The bill seeks to change the doctrine of liability to deliberate intent. The bill would require proof in a legal case that employer is deliberately placing an employee in an unsafe working condition in order to claim Workmen’s Compensation. Evidence cannot be circumstantial in nature and precautions included in the equipment manuals may also not be presented before the court.
House Bill 2128
House Bill 2128 permits individuals who have been issued concealed weapons permits to keep their personal firearms in their vehicles on the grounds of the State Capitol Complex. With this bill, vehicles must be locked and the weapons should be out of normal view.
House Bill 2151
House Bill 2151 would make West Virginia’s teacher of the year a member of the Board of Education. They would be an ex officio, non-voting member of the Board. The bill also includes provisions for the governor to appoint a replacement for any vacant board member as well as compensate the teacher of the year for any expenses incurred in the duties of their membership on the Board of Education.
House Bill 2224
House Bill 2224 provides an exception for historical reenactors concerning the prohibition against a group of individuals associating themselves into a military organization. Because it is currently unlawful for any person to associate themselves into a military group or organization and reenactors technically meet that definition, this bill makes it lawful for them to associate themselves, drill, and parade with arms.
House Bill 2234
House Bill 2234 would allow a court to permit a party involved in a divorce proceeding to continue to use the name he or she used prior to the marriage without having to file a separate petition in a separate action.
House Bill 2266
House Bill 2266 would repeal sections of the state code regarding the publication requirements of administration of states. The new language would require appraisement of a property to be filed and a public notice of appraisement to be filed within thirty days of the appraisal or within 120 days of the estate opening. The estate must be filed within ninety days of the first date of publication of the appraisal. All notices must be filed as legal advertisements in the appropriate news outlet.
House Bill 2444
House Bill 2444 would provide assistance to small businesses from the West Virginia Development office. The bill provides for the assignment of economic development officers to serve as Small Business Allies to act as facilitators to assist small businesses. The bill lays outs the duties and services to be provided by the officers including assisting individuals seeking to establish and maintain a small business.
House Bill 2568
House Bill 2568 creates the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, prohibiting abortions when the gestational age of a fetus has reached a pain capable gestational age. The bill prohibits abortion past this stage except for in cases where the fetus is not medically viable or there is a medical emergency.