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Tort Cases in Large Counties: Civil Justice Survey of State Courts, 1992

THREE OUT OF FOUR TORT CASES SETTLED OUT OF COURT


U.S. Department of Justice

ADVANCE FOR RELEASE AT 5 P.M. EDT                            BJS
THURSDAY, APRIL 13, 1995                            202-307-0784

THREE OUT OF FOUR TORT CASES SETTLED OUT OF COURT

     WASHINGTON, D.C.--Three out of four tort cases filed in the
nation's 75 most populous counties never reached the courtroom because
they were settled out of court, according to a Department of Justice study
released today.  Only 3 percent went to trial, with the plaintiff winning
about half the time.   

     The study of 378,000 state tort cases (about half of all tort suits
completed from July 1, 1991, through June 30, 1992) found  that more
than 75 percent involved automobile accidents or property liability claims. 
Medical malpractice, product liability and toxic substance cases accounted
for 10 percent. Torts are wrongful acts--not including contract
disputes--that result in injury to another's person, property or reputation
and for which the injured party is entitled to compensation.  

     The average tort case took a little more than 19 months to 
conclude.  In one-quarter of the cases, the defendant did not file an
answer, and most of these uncontested cases ended in settlement
agreements.  Seven percent of medical malpractice claims were concluded
by a trial, and in these the defendants won three out of four cases. 

     Automobile tort cases primarily involved individuals suing individuals. 
Medical malpractice cases were mostly individuals against hospitals. 
Toxic substance and other product liability cases most often involved
individuals filing against businesses.

     The types of tort cases filed in the state courts of general jurisdiction
in the nation's 75 most populous counties included:
       Auto    . . . . . . . . . 60 percent
       Property . . . . . . . . .17
       Other negligence . . . . . 6
       Medical malpractice  . . . 5
       Product liability  . . . . 3
       Intentional injury . . . . 3
       Non-medical malpractice  . 2
       Toxic substance  . . . . . 2
       Slander and libel  . . . . 1
       Unknown  . . . . . . . . . 1

     In the 29 states in which the National Center for State Courts analyzed
1993 data, there were almost 6 million civil cases, which fell into the
following types:
       Domestic relations . . . . 41 percent 
       Small claims . . . . . . . 12 
       Contracts  . . . . . . . . 11
       Torts  . . . . . . . . . . 10
       Estates  . . . . . . . . . 10
       Real property rights . . .  7
       Other  . . . . . . . . . .  5
       Mental health  . . . . . .  2
       Civil appeals  . . . . . .  2

     The Center also said the number of tort filings remained relatively
stable from 1986 through 1993.

     The report, "Tort Cases in Large Counties" (NCJ-153177), was
prepared by Steven K. Smith, Carol J. DeFrances, Patrick A. Langan,
statisticians in the Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics, and John
Goerdt, of the National Center for State Courts.  Single copies of it and
other BJS bulletins and reports may be obtained from the BJS
Clearinghouse, Box 179, Annapolis Junction, Maryland 20701-0179.  The
telephone number is 1-800- 732-3277.  Fax orders to 410-792-4358.  

     Data from tables and graphs used in many BJS reports can be
obtained in spreadsheet files on 5.  and 3.  inch diskettes by calling
202-307-0784.        

After hours contact:  Stu Smith 301-983-9354

Date Created: May 28, 2009