Businesses like Virginia's legal climate, not Maryland's

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

Businesses are a big fan of Virginia's legal system but increasingly find Maryland courts and judges burdensome to growth, according to a new U.S. Chamber of Commerce study.

Virginia ranked seventh-best in the country for its legal climate in a chamber survey of businesses with revenues greater than $100 million, thanks to tort laws that tend to favor corporations and rules that generally keep frivolous lawsuits at bay. Maryland, meanwhile, ranked 33rd -- falling from 20th in 2010, the year of the last report.

Businesses had generally low opinions of Maryland judges when it came to their impartiality, fairness and competence, ranking them 33rd in the country in all three categories. Baltimore County in particular has a reputation for courts that favor plaintiffs in civil cases and hand out large verdicts, said Bryan Quigley, spokesman for the Institute for Legal Reform, an arm of the chamber.

Just because a state has laws that ensure victims can seek retribution doesn't make them bad for business, said Sen. Jamin Raskin, D-Montgomery County, who sits on the Judicial Proceedings Committee and teaches law at American University.

"Nobody likes to get sued, but everyone wants to have his or her day in court if they get injured," Raskin said. "I assume on this study, the best state would be one where businesses aren't held accountable for any tort they commit. That's not in any definition of fairness.

"We never know when we're going to be the plaintiff or the victim. We don't want laws that have the thumb on the scale."

Delaware topped the list as the friendliest to business, with Nebraska and Wyoming rounding out the top three. Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia finished at the bottom.

Seven out of 10 of the businesses surveyed said an area's legal climate had a significant bearing on where they choose to locate, up 13 percent since 2005.

"A state's legal environment is likely to impact their decision on where to grow, expand and, in some cases, get out of," Quigley said. "That's real jobs; that's real economic growth, or lack thereof."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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