Corporations Rank Mississippi Courts Unfairest

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By Arthur D. Postal, Washington Bureau Chief

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NU Online News Service, March 8, 4:02 p.m.EST?Senior corporate attorneys believe that Delaware'slegal system is currently the fairest to U.S. businesses whileMississippi is biased against them, a poll has found.[@@]

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The study was released today by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce'sInstitute for Legal Reform, which has launched public relations,lobbying and legal campaigns to reduce the cost of litigation forAmerica's businesses.

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The survey of more than 1,400 senior corporate attorneys wasalso conducted with the help of Harris Interactive.

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ILR officials said that while Mississippi ranked 50th in thisyear's study, 96 percent of respondents who were familiar with thestate's comprehensive legal reform legislation enacted last year"expect a major or moderate improvement in the state's litigationenvironment."

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ILR officials also said that Illinois, home of Madison County,which corporate attorneys view as one of the worst "jackpotjurisdictions" for trial lawyers in the country, "continued itssteady decline," dropping two places in this year's study, to46.

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West Virginia once again ranked 49. Florida dropped four placesin this year's survey to 42, falling nine places since 2002.Delaware was ranked as the most balanced legal system for thefourth consecutive year.

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New Jersey was 30th in the rankings, and New York 27th.California, the nation's largest state, ranked 45th, andTexas was 44th.

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The American Insurance Association used the study to press theFlorida Legislature, which began its current session Tuesday, toundertake substantive tort reform.
The study "underscores the urgent need for the Florida Legislature"to pass tort reform legislation," said Cecil Pearce, AIA vicepresident, Southeast region.

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"The poll's results of corporate counsel should serve as awake-up call to Florida legislators," Mr. Pearce said. "Florida'sranking has fallen eight spots in three years, a reflection of thebusiness community's increasing frustration with the state'sgrowing lawsuit lottery mentality. That's why tort reform,especially in the areas of asbestos liability and third-party badfaith, are among AIA's top priorities for the 2005 legislativesession."

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On the asbestos front, Florida is becoming a magnet state forasbestos claims of dubious validity, Mr. Pearce said, while"another liability issue reaching crisis proportions in Florida isthe growing number and cost of third-party bad faith lawsuits dueto a failure to reach settlement, which can result in judgments farin excess of insurance policy limits."

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The Center for Justice & Democracy, a liberal consumergroup, called the study "completely unwarranted, unfair andcontrary to the opinion of business leaders in the states."

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The Center said the study criticizes certain state businessclimates "based on nothing more than corporate lawyers' views of astate's legal system."

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Joanne Doroshow, CJ&D Executive Director, said, "The U.S.Chamber of Commerce has no business going around the countryattacking individual states' business climates at the same timethese states are achieving great success attracting businesses

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She added, "The U.S. Chamber should be promoting businesses inthese states, not hurting them."

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Ms. Doroshow said that, "to the extent that readers coulddecipher the details of this ?survey,' it seems clearly designed totest responses to a set of arguments reflecting the Chamber'spolitical agenda to limit lawsuits and the liability of corporatewrongdoers."

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