> Just what Americans need - more reasons to be litigious.
According to a Feb 1 article in the Los Angeles Times, "We Aren't
Seeing You in Court", America's litigation levels have levelled off
and actually been falling in recent years, especially in California.
Furthermore, the so-called litigation explosion was actually not much of
an explosion after all. The article is available in the Times archives
(with free registration) for another day or two. Here are some excerpts:
America's litigation explosion has fizzled.
Americans are no longer suing each other as much.
Californians are suing each other much less.
After years of steady decline, the number of big-money personal
injury lawsuits in California is roughly half of what it was a decade
ago. Small claims have fallen to levels unseen in 30 years.
"California may be a bit more precipitous," said University of
Wisconsin law professor Marc Galanter, an expert on lawsuit patterns,
"but this is the general picture in the United States."
'Explosion' May Have Been Overstated
Arguably, that image has always been overblown. Legal scholars suggest
that only a small percentage of those who suffered injuries ever took
their claims to court.
A massive study of the behavior of injured Americans in the late 1980s
by the Rand Corp.'s Institute for Civil Justice found that only 2%
of injured Americans sought compensation by filing lawsuits.
A tort litigation "explosion" occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, when
lawsuits increased by a little more than half, suggesting that 3%
of those injured were filing them.
That was not a big event in the long lens of American
history. Litigation rates were higher in colonial and pre-20th
century America than at the height of the modern "explosion," said
the University of Wisconsin's Galanter.
But the "explosion" may have been perceived as bigger than it was
because it followed a period of decline in lawsuits that began during
the Great Depression and continued through World War II and the postwar
recovery years. A law review article from that period reflected the
concern of some lawyers and judges that they might not have enough
to do. It was titled: "The Problem of Decreasing Litigation."
Rand economist Stephen Carroll attributes the big slide here mainly
to the long-term repercussions of a 1988 state Supreme Court decision
that changed the rules under which injury lawsuits are brought.
That decision took away a powerful negotiating tool that plaintiffs'
attorneys had used to pry settlement offers out of insurers. The vast
majority of lawsuits are settled before trial.
Until the high court acted, a plaintiff's attorney could bring a
lawsuit accusing an insurer of bad faith if the insurer failed to
make a reasonable settlement offer.
The high court took away that threat of punitive damages and
insurers were freer to make low-ball settlement offers or none at
all. Plaintiffs' attorneys, largely dependent on settlements for
their own incomes, may then have become choosier about which cases
After the high court decision, personal injury lawsuits filed annually
in California Superior Courts fell over a decade from 132,000 to
The largest subgroup of the lawsuits, involving motor vehicle injuries,
fell from 91,000 to 42,000 per year.
You see, everything you know is wrong.
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon May 28 2001 - 09:56:39 MDT