Advocacy group: Lawsuit-climate survey indicates need for S.C. tort reform

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A recently released national lawsuit-climate survey highlights several areas in which South Carolina “still has room for improvement,” Earl Hunter, executive director of the South Carolina Civil Justice Coalition (SCCJC), said.

Specifically, the "2015 Lawsuit Climate Survey: Ranking the States," published by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform (ILR), reported the results from a survey of more than 1,200 general counsels and senior attorneys or leaders in companies with annual revenues of at least $100 million. The survey was conducted by phone and online interviews between March 9 and June 24.

South Carolina moved up three spots since the last survey in 2012, from 39th to 36th, out of the 50 states. Comparatively, neighboring North Carolina was ranked 6th – up from 20th in 2012, and Georgia fell from 24th in 2012 to 31st this year.

“We have some more work to do,” Hunter said. “I think the survey provides a fair assessment, given the criteria,” Hunter told Palmetto Business Daily this week. “There are a lot of positives in South Carolina ... and there are some improvements that can be made.”

Toward the goal of making such improvements in the state’s lawsuit climate, Hunter said the SCCJC has called for and supports “meaningful tort-reform legislation” aimed at helping to balance the South Carolina civil justice system.

Hunter pointed to two comprehensive tort-reform bills introduced during the current legislative session that the SCCJC will be lobbying to have passed: the Transparency in Private Attorney Contracts Act, S.B. 281, and the Liability Reform Act, S.B. 282. Some of the provisions found in the bills include those that would:

• Provide transparency in private attorney contracting

• Require disclosure and transparency from claimants in asbestos tort actions

• Allow the non-use of seat belts to be admissible in civil cases to reduce damages

• Establish courtroom uniformity in handling evidence and rules in cases involving trucks and their commercial drivers

• Preserve fundamental fairness for landowners in dealing with trespassers by codifying existing law

Hunter called these bills “responsible legislation” that could help improve South Carolina’s overall lawsuit climate, which has been identified by “more business leaders than ever … as a significant factor in determining their growth and expansion plans,” ILR President Lisa Rickard said in a recent statement. “States ought to take notice that a good lawsuit climate is vital to their continued job growth.”

“We appreciate the (ILR’s) work,” Hunter told Palmetto Business Daily. “It’s important to know where your state is, how far it has come and how far it has to go.”

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