Proponents of tort reform scored an important victory Wednesday with successful passing of a series of tort reform measures in the House Courts, Civil Subcommittee on Wednesday. Under an agreement negotiated with the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, several important priority tort reforms backed by a broad coalition of business organizations including the Prince William Chamber have a strong change to pass this year. These measures will be heard before the full House Courts committee next week before heading to the house floor. The key measures include:
Depositions Used in Admissions and Summary Judgment Motions: For the first time since 1973, depositions will be allowed to form the basis for summary judgment motions in a limited class of cases. The agreement applies to non-DUI punitive damage parts of a claim. This is important because businesses are being subjected to punitive damage claims on an increasing basis – particularly as a pressure tactic related to other parts of a lawsuit. Depositions will now be allowed to knock out meritless punitive damage claims through summary judgment motions. Depositions will also be allowed to form the basis for Admissions. This will also help businesses defend against baseless and frivolous cases.
Venue Reform: Perhaps the most significant change will help businesses limit lawsuits in jurisdictions that do not have any meaningful connection to the cause of action. Under current Virginia law, companies can be sued in any locality they ‘regularly conduct substantial business.’ This means that even if an accident occurs in one county, a suit can be brought in a more plaintiff-friendly jurisdiction even if there is no connection to that location. With the proposed change, there must be a ‘practical nexus’ – or meaningful connection – between where the lawsuit is filed and the cause of action.
Trespassing: In cases across the country attempts are being made to try to assert new duties of care against property owners including the misguided theory that landowners should owe a duty of ‘reasonable care’ to a trespasser. Current Virginia law says that property owners owe no duty of care to trespassers except in very limited circumstances. Legislation passed as part of the agreement will freeze current Virginia common and statutory law and preclude any changes to our common law.
Nonsuit: A recent City of Richmond Circuit Court decision severely damaged the existing nonsuit law. Whenever a plaintiff takes a nonsuit (a procedural motion to end the lawsuit) seven days before the trial or during the trial, the defendant is able to seek expert witness fees. The Richmond decision said the law only applied to the period seven days before the trial, and not the trial itself. Legislation was needed to correct this bad court decision.