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Newport News is closer to ‘hellhole’ list

The city of Newport News – with its busy docket of asbestos cases – remains in the sights of tort reformers.

The American Tort Reform Association, which publishes an annual list of “judicial hellholes,” has placed Newport News on its “Watch List” for the second year in a row.

The dubious distinction stems primarily from the use of admiralty law and its relaxed standard of causation for asbestos cases, many of which are filed in Newport News Circuit Court, the ATRA said.

Newport News judges consistently rule in favor of plaintiffs on other issues, the tort reform group said.

The ATRA claims Virginia asbestos plaintiffs enjoy an 85 percent trial success rate, the highest in the county. Many of those trials are held in Newport News, a major shipbuilding center.

“With its designation as a jurisdiction to watch, Newport News is quickly becoming closer to attaining Judicial Hellhole status,” an ATRA spokesperson said.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Robert R. Hatten, who scored many of those Newport News asbestos verdicts, said ATRA’s description of the venue is a “hatchet job, full of half truths, misleading and inaccurate statements.”

Newport News is an epicenter of asbestos-related cancer cases because of the tens of thousands of shipyard workers and retired Navy sailors who live there, Hatten said.

Maritime law pre-empts Virginia law for shipyard cases and the causation standard of “substantial contributing factor” is used for asbestos cases throughout the federal courts, Hatten said.

A Virginia lawyer who regularly defends asbestos claims, Carl R. Schwertz, declined to comment on the ATRA report.

ATRA claims to be the only national organization dedicated exclusively to tort and liability reform through public education and the enactment of legislation.

The group is described by a trial lawyers’ group as an “anti-consumer lobby” backed by the medical industry and corporate interests.

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