Today’s post is about statistics. Hey, wake up, these are important!
The National Center for State Courts has the best, most accurate state court statistics in America. (That's where most lawsuits are brought.) Gathering these are not so easy, since most states have very antiquated and inconsistent methods for tracking who sues and why. But every year, NCSC does a phenomenal job tracking these and it recently released its most recent data, covering the year 2008. Basically, tort case filings, including medical malpractice cases, are dropping like a rock. But guess what are flooding the civil courts? Debt collections. Take a look:
"Contracts comprise an increasingly large share of civil caseloads" (p. 26) (These cases are largely debt collections.)
- In 2008, monetary disputes (contract and small claims cases) accounted for 73 percent of civil cases in 7 states reporting (up 4 percent from 2007), while tort cases represented less than 5 percent of civil caseloads in those states. (p. 26)
"Contract caseloads continue to climb" (p. 27)
- Tort caseloads have continued to decrease, falling by 6 percent from 2007 to 2008 in 13 general jurisdiction courts reporting, whereas contract caseloads rose sharply, increasing by 27 percent in those courts over the same time period. (p. 27)
- From 1999 to 2008, tort caseloads in 13 general jurisdiction courts reporting decreased 25 percent, while contract caseloads grew 63 percent. (p. 27)
"Incoming contract cases are nine times that of torts" (p. 27)
- After examining incoming tort and contract rates in 11 states in 2008 the researchers found that "[w]hen tort and contract caseloads are examined side by side, contracts dominate in every jurisdiction. With the overall and median proportion of contracts in these 11 states above 90 percent, and given their growing numbers, contract case processing is doubtless an increasing concern for all state courts." (p. 27)
Automobile cases comprise the majority of tort caseloads (p. 28)
- "Data from 17 unified and general jurisdiction courts indicate that automobile accident litigation generally comprises the majority of tort caseloads, with proportions ranging from 18 to 69 percent." (p. 28)
Some courts are struggling to clear their civil caseloads, apparently because of increasing numbers of contract cases (p. 29)
- "Increasing numbers of contract cases, already known to comprise the preponderance of civil caseloads, appear to be having a negative effect on some courts’ civil clearance rates. Of the 28 unified and general jurisdiction courts shown below, only 7 have achieved rates at or above 100 percent."
"Contract clearance rates are consistently lower than those for tort caseloads" (p. 30)
- "Examination of two of the aforementioned components of civil caseloads—contract and tort cases—confirms that increasing contract caseloads may be hampering courts’ efforts to clear civil cases. The median clearance rates for the larger contract caseloads in 13 unified and general jurisdiction courts are under 100 percent (99% and 96%, respectively) while both types of courts were more successful clearing the smaller (although sometimes more complex) tort caseloads, with medians above 100 percent." (p. 30)
"Like other torts, medical malpractice claims continue to decline" (p. 31)
- "Just as torts typically represent a single-digit proportion of civil caseloads, medical malpractice cases comprise a similar proportion of torts. Despite their continued notoriety, rarely does a
medical malpractice caseload exceed a few hundred cases in any one state in one year." (p. 31)
- "As was seen in Mississippi in 2003, the enactment of tort reform legislation can profoundly affect the filing patterns of medical malpractice caseloads. However, medical malpractice caseloads are often so small that a change of as few as 50 or 100 filings can create a similar effect." (p. 31)
- Long-term data show a 15 percent decline in medical malpractice filings in general jurisdiction courts in seven states from 1999 to 2008. (p. 31)
So, where exactly is this lawsuit crisis?