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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform had “litigation tourism” in its sights when it chose to release the results of its sixth annual ranking of state legal systems in Sacramento, Calif., this year. The chamber claims that the state has become a Mecca for plaintiffs’ lawyers filing hundreds of lawsuits on behalf of non-residents � what it calls “litigation tourism.” As in prior years, the chamber has attempted to highlight an issue by releasing its annual Harris Interactive national survey � a poll of 1,599 senior defense and corporate attorneys asked to rank the states’ legal climates � in a jurisdiction where it perceives a particular issue to be most pressing. In its ratings this year, Delaware took first place � as it has in the last five years � as the state with the fairest court system, followed by Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa and Maine, according to “ Lawsuit Climate 2007: Rating the States.” West Virginia stayed on the bottom rung for a second straight year, in a cellar it shares with California, which moved down one spot from last year to number 45, and Illinois, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi, the report said. “California’s low ranking is not surprising, given the fact that California courts are willing to certify class action lawsuits most other jurisdictions would toss out, and that California juries are increasingly likely to award disproportionately large judgments in civil cases,” said Tom Donohue, the chamber’s president and CEO, in a statement. But the American Association for Justice (AAJ), formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, called the chamber’s study “claiming to rank so-called ‘anti-business’ state legal systems … yet another baseless attack on the nation’s civil justice system in its campaign to eliminate corporate accountability for wrongdoing and negligence,” in a statement released in response. “This latest propaganda is a made-up survey primarily of corporate lawyers earning millions of dollars defending their CEOs from being held accountable,” said Jon Haber, the association’s CEO, in the statement. “The Chamber will stop at nothing to destroy the civil justice system in America, which protects the rights of consumers, employees, and shareholders against corporate wrongdoing and negligence,” Haber said. In turn, AAJ released “ The Ten Worst States to Get Sick or Injured In,” listing 10 states that have enacted various damages caps: Alaska, Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. The chamber is backing a move in the California legislature to limit the ability of out-of-state plaintiffs to bring actions in the state � as was formerly the practice Mississippi and Texas before those states changed their laws. The chamber and the defense bar also have filed amicus briefs in California cases seeking to have the courts reject cases in which plaintiffs have no California connection, particularly in relation to the asbestos docket in San Francisco Superior Court, which they claim has become a “dumping ground” for cases filed by out-of-state plaintiffs. They have filed a petition seeking state supreme court review of this issue in Fisher Scientific Co. v. Superior Court (Martin), No. S144795 ( petition for review filed July 3, 2006).

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