Studies Show No “Lawsuit Explosion”

We hear a lot in the media these days about “tort reform” and “legal reform.” These are efforts by big businesses and insurance companies to change our civil justice system. They want to make it harder for people hurt by unsafe products — and victims of other kinds of injuries — to recover compensation for their injuries and losses. They also want to limit the amount of damages injury victims can recover. In arguing for change, big businesses and insurance companies try to persuade people that the number of lawsuits is increasing too fast and laws should be changed to stop this. They also complain that the size of awards to injury victims is growing. But studies done by the federal government and unbiased organizations show they are wrong.

Fewer Tort Cases In Federal Courts

According to several studies, the number of tort cases (mostly personal injury cases like product liability and auto accident cases) has fallen significantly over time in federal courts.

• One study, issued by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, looked at tort cases resolved in U.S. district courts. It found that the number of such cases declined by nearly 80 percent between 1985 and 2003.

• According to a report issued by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, the number of tort actions filed in U.S. courts dropped by about 20% between 2002 and 2005.

Fewer Tort Cases In State Courts

The drop in personal injury cases is not just limited to federal courts. The facts show that the number of such cases is also dropping in state courts.

• The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics issued a report in 2004 looking at rates of civil lawsuits filed in state courts (the majority of these lawsuits were personal injury cases). According to the report, there was a drop of approximately 47% in the number of lawsuits between 1992 and 2001. The study also found that the size of trial awards declined by over 43% during this period. This is directly opposite to the claim made by big businesses and insurance companies that the size of awards is growing rapidly.

• Another study was done by The Los Angeles Times. It looked at personal injury lawsuits in California over a recent 15-year period, but applies just as much to other states. It found the number of personal injury lawsuits dropped by nearly 50% during the period studied.

• A study published by the National Center for State Courts also confirmed that the number of personal injury lawsuits is falling. It said that the number of such cases peaked in 1990 and “have actually shown a generally downward movement since that time.” The study also said that the number of contract claims (typically filed by businesses) has “continued to rise steadily.” The study looked at court statistics in 35 states.

Big businesses and insurance companies will continue to argue that laws should be changed. But when you hear this, remember the truth. Businesses want new laws to help them boost profits at the expense of consumers. The laws businesses want will protect them from paying for their wrongful behavior and make it much harder for injury victims to get fair compensation. Know that the evidence proves the number of lawsuits and size of awards all declined in recent years, and that contrary to what big businesses say, there is no “lawsuit explosion.” When you hear businesses complain that too many injury lawsuits are hurting their business, remember the true facts and oppose their efforts to weaken laws that protect injury victims.

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