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No evidence of tort 'explosion,' study says.

Tort filings in state courts are down 6 percent nationwide since 1991, according to a recent nine-year study published by the National Center for State Courts. (Brian J. Ostrom & Neal B. Kauder, Examining the Work of State Courts, 1993 viii (1995).) This data is particularly significant because over 95 percent of all tort cases are filed in state courts.

The study also revealed, however, that the decline in tort filings follows a dramatic increase that occurred during the mid-1980s. The number of annual filings has now started to go down, with about 1 million tort cases filed in 1993.

The number of contract cases has especially declined, with filings down 37 percent since 1990. The study authors assert two possible explanations for this downturn: the economic recession in the early 1990s and the increasing use of arbitration and mediation to resolve contract disputes.

Domestic relations cases are rapidly increasing, however, with a rise in filings of 37 percent between 1988 and 1993. By 1993, 38 percent of all civil filings involved domestic relations.

The most rapid growth has occurred in cases alleging domestic violence, which have increased over 70 percent since 1989. The study cites tougher penalties as a partial cause for the increase in the filings.

The study also noted that only 7.7 percent of all tort cases are resolved at trial, about half of which are in front of a jury.

Plaintiffs prevail about half the time, with the highest success rate in automobile accident cases--60 percent--and the lowest in medical negligence cases--30 percent. The median award in all tort cases is about $52,000.

Punitive Damages

Contrary to recent concerns about the overuse and excessiveness of punitive damages awards, the data shows that they are awarded in only 6 percent of tort cases in which the defendant was found liable. Further, the median award of punitive damages is $50,000.

"This data again confirms that there is no litigation 'explosion' and that both compensatory and punitive damages awards are very reasonable," said ATLA President Larry Stewart.

Regarding appellate courts, the study reports that although filings declined slightly in 1993, a long-term trend of increases had preceded the decline. Both mandatory and discretionary appeals had increased significantly inappellate courts at all levels.

For a copy of the 80-page report, Examining the Work of State Courts, 1993, contact Carrie Clay, National Center for State Courts, P.O. Box 8798, Williamsburg, VA 23187-8798, (804) 259-1812, or fax (804) 220-0449.
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Title Annotation:National Center for State Courts
Author:Haddad, Samia Christine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jul 1, 1995
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