South Dakota makes a Top 10 “fairness” list

Often finding itself low in national rankings on items from teacher salaries to average annual pay, South Dakota made the top ten in a new ranking out this week. It is 10th among all 50 states in “the fairness of its litigation environment.”

Of course, all rankings should be taken with a grain of salt. Here, that grain is the source of the rankings: the Institute for Legal Reform, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that spends $20 million a year lobbying for “tort reform.” That isn’t to say there is anything inherently wrong with the organization; it’s just that it has a specific perspective on “fairness.”

At the same time, the rankings, obtained from a survey conducted by Harris Interactive from October 2009 to January 2010, doesn’t hide its approach. It notes that the survey was conducted “to explore how reasonable and balanced the states’ tort liability systems are perceived to be by U.S. business. Participants in the survey were comprised of a sample of 1,482 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys, and other senior executives who indicated they are knowledgeable about litigation matters at companies with at least $100 million in annual revenues.”

I don’t think that sample group likely has the same views as those of members of, say, the American Trial Lawyers Association or a consumer activist group. Again, as anyone with children knows, “fairness” is in the eye of the beholder.

In the detailed rankings, South Dakota got its highest score for “Judges’ Impartiality,” followed by “Juries’ Fairness.” In those two categories, the state ranked third and sixth, respectively. The lowest scores were for “Scientific and Technical Evidence” (38th) and “Having and Enforcing Meaningful Venue Requirements” (31st).

South Dakota ranked 12th in 2008 and 11th in 2007. Delaware topped the list of the best legal climate while Louisiana and West Virginia ranked 49th and 50th. Even recognizing the survey’s perspective, there is something that will cause some South Dakotans to grumble: North Dakota ranked second.

Life is never fair…And perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.

Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband

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