So as we start another year there is some worthwhile reading in the National Center for State Court’s report Examining the Work of State Courts (2008 Data). It is a report on case filings and caseloads in our states, for the last year where complete data was available. As you might imagine the statistical information available from state to state varies. However a number of states keep detailed reports on the types of cases being filed. Some interesting facts emerge.
Reading Table 4, a report on annual new tort filings in state courts from 1999 to 2008 you can see that tort filings were down in 2008 compared to the average tort filings over those 10 years in 25 states. The 2008 filings were more than 20% below the 10 year average in California, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, and Texas.
Over all tort filings fell 5 percent in the general jurisdiction courts in 13 states with the most detailed recordkeeping practices.
During 2008 the number of contract filings increased dramatically, a sign of our economic times. North Dakota lead the nation in 2008 in the ratio of incoming contract suits to tort suits. They had 320 tort cases and 19,590 contact cases, a 98% ratio. Kansas had 155,756 contract cases filed to 3,342 tort suits. The farming states weren’t the only ones with this ratio. In New Jersey there were over 9 times as many contact suits filed as tort suits and in Connecticut there were 8.2 times as many contact suits as tort suits. In fact, in 11 states there were better than 8 times as many contract suits filed as tort suits, in 2008.
In the tort arena, in 17 states, with better data compilation systems, 55% of the tort cases were automobile cases. North Carolina leads the list with 69% of their tort filings in 2008 being automobile cases, but with a very low ratio of tort suits, 94 cases per 100,000 of population. That compares to New Jersey where 627 cases per 100,000 populations were filed with 52% of them being auto cases. Connecticut’s new filings show 435 cases per 100,000 in population, with 68% being automobile torts.
Don’t worry about docket delays in New Jersey. They terminated 27% more tort cases in 2008 than were filed. 16 other states joined them in keeping ahead of the tide of tort cases with dispositions.
So if you do Medical Malpractice cases the news isn’t good. During the 10 years measured new filings were down 15% in the seven states which collected that data over the period, Arizona, Connecticut, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Oregon. So where was the best place to have been in 2008? In Kansas, where 7.4% of the new tort cases were classed and medical malpractice followed by Puerto Rico with 6% of the new cases being medical malpractice. If you were in Wisconsin, Connecticut, Oregon or Minnesota doing medical malpractice work, life was tough in 2008 since less than 2% of the tort cases were medical malpractice In fact if you were in Oregon only 49 cases were filed and in Minnesota only 37 were filed.
So what does all this mean? It looks like that data confirms there are fewer tort cases being filed. Historically, when bad economic times hit, tort filings increase and verdicts tick up as well. Whether the data for the last two years, when available, will bear this out remains to be seen. For now its is clear we continue to live in interesting times and hopefully there will be plenty of new, challenging and interesting cases coming our way in the new year.