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$90 million verdict bad for WV

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Evan Jenkins Evan Jenkins
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Evan Jenkins, R-Cabell, is executive director of the West Virginia Medical Association and a candidate for Congress in the 3rd Congressional District.

West Virginia's reputation is in crisis as the state endures a perfect storm of bad policy, bad politics and just plain bad luck. But much of the negative attention we have comes from outsiders.

In 2012, iVillage ranked West Virginia as the nation's fourth-worst place for women to live in the nation, citing the low number of women who hold degrees and the state's lack of protections for nursing mothers to feed babies in public or private. A national organization dedicated to repairing our civil justice system consistently ranks our state as one of the worst "judicial hellholes" in the nation.  More recent data isn't any more encouraging.  

Last month, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index interviewed more than 176,000 people from all 50 states last year and West Virginia was ranked at the bottom of the list for the fifth consecutive year, meaning nobody has a more negative outlook about their home state than the people they interviewed and health data they examined from West Virginia. These are dark days, but what can we do? Our elected representatives must stop playing politics and do what's right for West Virginia in order to improve the direction of our state.  

Take for instance this week's oral argument before the West Virginia Supreme Court where Mississippi attorneys argued that the settled laws of this state are up for grabs, asserting that the Medical Professional Liability Act does not apply to nursing homes. At stake is a $90 million verdict that will send shivers down the spine of job creators across the state if it is upheld. For perspective, the infamous Karen Silkwood case earned $10.5 million and the Three Mile Island settlement in Pennsylvania was for a reported $25 million. Two years ago a Pennsylvania jury handed down an $89 million verdict against the manufacturer of an airplane carburetor after a crash killed four people and severely injured a fifth. All pale in comparison to the $90.5 million judgment recently handed down against a West Virginia nursing home. 

As a state senator who voted on the bill, the legislative intent of the Medical Professional Liability Act has been clear from the beginning, and a fellow state senator appeared on Bray Cary's show, "The State Journal's Decision Makers," last year to reconfirm that it was the intent of the legislature to include health care services in a nursing home, so how did this happen? A Mississippi trial lawyer is now trying to take advantage of someone's death by seeking a jackpot justice payout. Is it coincidence that West Virginia and Kentucky rank at the bottom of the Gallup-Healthways survey and rank at the top of the Aon Risk Solutions? The American Health Care Association study identified state laws and judiciary as contributing factors to liability costs. West Virginia and Kentucky have the highest loss rates per bed for nursing homes due to liability costs. Despite the efforts of outside interests preying on our state, there is some good news.

The people of West Virginia are hardworking and honest, and those virtues have attracted job-creating investments across the state. Several retail, manufacturing and energy companies are opening up shop or expanding operations in West Virginia, strengthening our economy and creating good jobs. 

The people with the resources to create good-paying jobs are coming to West Virginia and we as a community should be doing all we can to further that trend by improving the economic landscape for investors and employers. That means common sense reform of our civil litigation system, reducing the tax burden on businesses and families and improving our education system to make our state more attractive to those seeking new states in which to invest.  What we no longer need is a culture where strangers come to our state, take what they want and leave us used and abused in the rearview mirror.  We're better than that, and it's about time we have an economy as good as our people.