A new U.S. Chamber of Commerce report on tort liability perceptions has ranked Delaware as having the best legal climate and West Virginia as the worst, but a major lawyers’ group quickly dismissed the findings.

The report, called “Lawsuit Climate 2008: Ranking the States,” is an annual assessment of state liability systems conducted by Harris Interactive, a national research firm. It was scheduled to be released Wednesday by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, or ILR.

The American Association for Justice, formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, issued its own press release Tuesday, calling the report’s rankings “phony” and saying its purpose is to serve the extreme corporate agenda.

“This latest propaganda is further proof that U.S. Chamber serves at the behest of elite corporate insiders,” Jon Haber, the chief executive officer of the American Association for Justice, said in a news release. “U.S. Chamber’s goal is to make sure people can’t get justice in the courtroom, especially against the corporations that finance this front group.”

The organization claims there are a number of problems with the report, such as that it only surveyed corporate defense attorneys from companies earning at least $100 million.

The study found 41 percent of attorneys surveyed rated the reasonableness and balance of state courts as “excellent” or “pretty good,” while 55 percent called the courts “only fair” or “poor.” Sixty-three percent of respondents said a state’s litigation environment could influence important business decisions, up from 57 percent the previous year.

“We’ve been telling state policymakers for seven years now that they need to improve their state’s lawsuit system in order to attract new business and grow jobs and, at least in some states, the message appears to be getting through,” Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a news release. “But some states are learning that changing the law isn’t enough — they also need to make sure their courts correctly apply the law.”

Delaware has held the top spot in the ranking for the entire seven years of the survey, while West Virginia has ranked last for three years in a row.

After Delaware, the top scoring states were Nebraska, Maine, Indiana and Utah. In addition to West Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Illinois rounded off the bottom five states.

About 950 senior attorneys averaging nearly 20 years of legal experience were asked to evaluate up to five states in which they said they are “familiar” or “somewhat familiar” with the state’s litigation environment.

To highlight the study’s results and the need for comprehensive legal reform, ILR is launching a national advertising campaign highlighting the impact of lawsuit abuse on local businesses and families.

The full report is available on www.instituteforlegalreform.com.

Vesna Jaksic is a reporter withThe National Law Journal, aRecorder affiliate based in New York City.