I read a story similar to this one, but the story I saw cited statistics showing that the average award in product-liability suits has more than quadrupled since 1993.  That's not the same sort of suit as personal-injury, of course, but since the article below makes no mention of whether plaintiffs are receiving more or less money when they win in court, I am not convinced that we should just stop worrying about the costs of the legal system.

-Ananda

At 02:40 PM 2/14/01 -0700, you wrote:


According to a Feb 1 article in the Los Angeles Times, "We Aren't
Seeing You in Court", America's litigation levels have levelled off
and actually been falling in recent years, especially in California.
Furthermore, the so-called litigation explosion was actually not much of
an explosion after all.  The article is available in the Times archives
(with free registration) for another day or two.  Here are some
excerpts:

   America's litigation explosion has fizzled.

   Americans are no longer suing each other as much.

   Californians are suing each other much less.

   After years of steady decline, the number of big-money personal
   injury lawsuits in California is roughly half of what it was a decade
   ago. Small claims have fallen to levels unseen in 30 years.

   "California may be a bit more precipitous," said University of
   Wisconsin law professor Marc Galanter, an expert on lawsuit patterns,
   "but this is the general picture in the United States."

   ...

   'Explosion' May Have Been Overstated

   Arguably, that image has always been overblown. Legal scholars
suggest
   that only a small percentage of those who suffered injuries ever took
   their claims to court.

   A massive study of the behavior of injured Americans in the late
1980s
   by the Rand Corp.'s Institute for Civil Justice found that only 2%
   of injured Americans sought compensation by filing lawsuits.

   A tort litigation "explosion" occurred in the 1970s and 1980s, when
   lawsuits increased by a little more than half, suggesting that 3%
   of those injured were filing them.

   That was not a big event in the long lens of American
   history. Litigation rates were higher in colonial and pre-20th
   century America than at the height of the modern "explosion," said
   the University of Wisconsin's Galanter.

   But the "explosion" may have been perceived as bigger than it was
   because it followed a period of decline in lawsuits that began during
   the Great Depression and continued through World War II and the
postwar
   recovery years. A law review article from that period reflected the
   concern of some lawyers and judges that they might not have enough
   to do. It was titled: "The Problem of Decreasing Litigation."

   ...

   Rand economist Stephen Carroll attributes the big slide here mainly
   to the long-term repercussions of a 1988 state Supreme Court decision
   that changed the rules under which injury lawsuits are brought.

   That decision took away a powerful negotiating tool that plaintiffs'
   attorneys had used to pry settlement offers out of insurers. The vast
   majority of lawsuits are settled before trial.

   Until the high court acted, a plaintiff's attorney could bring a
   lawsuit accusing an insurer of bad faith if the insurer failed to
   make a reasonable settlement offer.

   The high court took away that threat of punitive damages and
   insurers were freer to make low-ball settlement offers or none at
   all. Plaintiffs' attorneys, largely dependent on settlements for
   their own incomes, may then have become choosier about which cases
   they filed.

   After the high court decision, personal injury lawsuits filed
annually
   in California Superior Courts fell over a decade from 132,000 to
   70,000.

   The largest subgroup of the lawsuits, involving motor vehicle
injuries,
   fell from 91,000 to 42,000 per year.

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