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Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties, 1996

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE AT 4:30 P.M. EDT                     BJS
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 1999                    202/307-0784                         


     WASHINGTON, D.C.   Parties (plaintiffs) who sued
defendants for damages in civil cases won 52 percent (8,125)
of the 15,638 tort, contract and real property rights cases
decided by jury or bench trial in state civil courts in the
nation's 75 largest counties during 1996, the Justice
Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced
today.  In jury trials plaintiffs won 49 percent of the time
in 1996, slightly less than the 52 percent they won in 1992. 
(Data were not collected in 1992 on trials decided by a
judge alone, known as "bench trials.")
     Plaintiffs won 62 percent of the contract cases in
1996 compared to 48 percent of the tort cases and 32 percent
of the real property cases.  A tort is a wrongful act,
damage or injury not involving a contract breach.  Examples
include automobile accident damages,  medical malpractice,
product liability, libel, vandalism and personal injury. 
Although the great majority of civil cases never come to
trial, data from trial cases provide detailed information
about  compensatory and punitive damage award amounts, BJS
noted.  Compensatory damages are awarded to compensate a
party for a proven injury or loss.  In addition, punitive
damages can be awarded, usually in tort claims, when the
defendant's conduct was grossly negligent or intentional.
     During 1996 in the 75 largest counties plaintiffs who
won their cases were awarded an estimated $3 billion in
compensatory and punitive damages.  Just over $2 billion was
awarded in tort cases alone.
     Half of all plaintiffs who won their cases were
awarded $33,000 or more.  About 16 percent were awarded more
than $250,000 in total damages, whereas an estimated 6
percent were awarded $1 million or more.
     Punitive damages were awarded to 5 percent (360 cases)
of the winning plaintiffs, totaling more than $600 million
and comprising about 21 percent of the $3 billion awarded to
plaintiffs overall.  Seven percent of the punitive damage
awards were for $1 million or more.  Fifty percent of those
who won punitive damages were awarded $40,000 or more. 
Twenty-one percent of punitive damage awards were more than
$250,000.  In about a third of the cases in which punitive
damages were awarded, the amount of punitive damages
exceeded the compensatory damages.
     Plaintiffs were more likely to win in cases decided by
judges (62 percent) than by juries (49 percent), but in
several types of cases juries more often than judges awarded
damages of $1 million or more.  For example, juries awarded
$1 million or more for damages in 22 percent of medical
malpractice cases and 14 percent of employment
discrimination cases.  In contrast, in neither of these
types of cases did judges award total damages of $1 million
or more.
     The bulletin, "Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large
Counties, 1996" (NCJ-173426), was  written by BJS
statisticians Carol J. DeFrances and Marika F.X. Litras. 
Single copies may be obtained from the BJS fax-on-demand
system by dialing 301/519-5550, listening to the complete
menu and  selecting document number 170.  Or call the BJS
clearinghouse number: 1-800-732-3277.  Fax orders for mail
delivery to 410/792-4358.  The BJS Internet site is:
     Additional criminal justice materials can be obtained
from the Office of Justice Programs homepage at:
                      # # # 
After hours contact: Stu Smith at 301/983-9354

Date Published: September 1, 1999