The humorous case that got us thinking about all this was the seven year-old patent case that Viva Viagra-maker Pfizer just withdrew. The case was over Eli Lilly's erectile “when the moment is right” dysfunction drug Cialis. (OK we’ve been watching a little too much Golf Channel over here.) According to Bloomberg, “[t]he agreement to drop the suit came a month after the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office said one aspect of the Pfizer patent in the case covered a treatment similar to a Chinese herb known as Horny Goat Weed.”
In an attempt to quickly wipe that image from our minds, we started thinking about court statistics. (Works every time.) What about these business cases? Or take it to the next level, what about cases brought by businesses against average Americans, compared to, say, tort cases?
First, we looked at the latest report from the U.S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, which studies bench and jury trials. BJS found that only about 3% of all tort, contract, and real property cases were even resolved by trials. Of that, businesses were suing other businesses in about 10% of cases. (We don’t know the composition of the other 97%, though.)
But going over to the National Center for State Courts, it gets really interesting. The NCSC found that monetary disputes (contract and many small claims) account for 70% of the entire state civil caseload. Moreover, between 1998 and 2007, contract cases went up 37% while tort cases dropped 24%. What’s more, contract cases "rose sharply in 2007, whereas tort cases continued a prolong decrease."
And now here’s the tragedy that explains it all. The NCSC was able to take a look at a few states in detail, like Kansas, which keeps good track of court statistics. In Kansas, an astounding 78.9% of their civil cases involved contract disputes. By comparison, only 2.1 % involved torts. But why so many contract disputes? In yet another reflection of the economic despair facing many Americans today, 72.8% were debt collections; 7.2% were mortgage foreclosures. As for the small number of tort cases, 60.8% of these were auto accidents. Only 7.8 % (of the 2.1%, remember) were medical malpractice cases. Even fewer – 1.2 % – involved products. As for cases involving erectile dysfunction, well, we'll just leave it at that.