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December 20th, 2010

West Virginia High Court Says No Lawsuits Without Injury

A ruling by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeal on Friday shows why the state is no longer named ATRA’s #1 Judicial Hellhole and provides an encouraging sign for further improvement of the state’s civil justice climate.

In White v. Wyeth, the state’s highest court recognized the basic principle that an individual who sues under a consumer protection statute must show that he or she actually relied on the allegedly deceptive advertisement or practice to recover damages.   In cases involving allegations that a business concealed information from consumers, the court ruled that plaintiffs, at minimum, need to show that “but for” the deceptive conduct, a reasonable consumer would not have purchased the product and lost money.  The court also found that West Virginia’s consumer protection statute does not apply to prescription drugs because the federal Food & Drug Administration already tightly regulates medicines to protect consumers, and a patient’s individual doctor is responsible for selecting the proper product and conveying its risks and benefits.

This is an important, commonsense ruling that sends a positive message to other courts.  As noted in the 2010-2011 Judicial Hellholes report, the D.C. Court of Appeals is currently reconsidering whether it will allow anyone to sue under the District’s consumer protection law without the need to show an injury, a financial loss, or even that they live in the jurisdiction.  As ATRA has documented in its report on Private Consumer Protection Lawsuit Abuse, “what these types of lawsuits generally have in common is that they are generated by lawyers and interest groups for profit or politics, not by consumers who have experienced an actual loss.”

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