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Myths v. Facts


The current Republican primary campaign for governor again raises some old dogs in the litigation “urban myth” conundrum that should be addressed.

  • Contrary to the popular myth, few injured Americans ever file a lawsuit. According to a Rand Institute study on civil justice, only 10% of those injured ever file a claim for compensation, and only 2% file lawsuits.
  • The notion of frivolous lawsuits clogging our courts is a myth. Most cases are, in fact, contract case filings (businesses suing businesses, or debt collections). National Center for State Courts data shows a 63% increase in contract litigation in 13 states from 1999 to 2008. In contrast, tort filings fell by 25% in those same states during the same ten-year period.
  • Did you know that most tort cases are settled before it ever going to trial? In 2005, approximately 3.5% of tort cases were resolved through either a bench (judge only) or jury trial in 104 jurisdictions reporting. As the US Department of Justice stated in an October 2011, report, “few civil cases are actually tried, as most are settled by mutual agreement outside the court system”.
  • Despite splashy headlines of jackpot justice, most plaintiffs who win in tort cases only receive modest awards. In a 2005 national sample of state courts of general jurisdiction, half of the plaintiff winners in tort trials were awarded $24,000 or less in damages.
  • Our civil justice system works to rein in excessive awards. High jury verdicts are frequently reduced after trial. According to the Department of Justice, and 2005 compensatory damages awarded the plaintiff winners were reduced in 15% of tort trials, with such awards being reduced by 40% on average.

These old dogs deserved to be put down. There is no “lawsuit lottery”.  Employers are not leaving the state in droves because of our litigation system or because of our Worker’s Compensation system. Lawsuits are not clogging our courts, at least suits by injured citizens seeking just compensation. The sky is not falling. Republican candidates should stop crying wolf.