Tuesday’s WSJ article by Joe Palazzalo about the decline in tort lawsuits is a must read for litigators. Here are just some of the facts and factors listed in the article:

  • tort filings declined from 16% of civil state court filings in 1993 to 4% in 2015;
  • tort filings were down by over 1.7 million cases nationwide during this period;
  • contract cases (i.e. debt collections) grew from 18% to 51% of the civil docket;
  • car wrecks account for 2/3 of tort filings, but crashes and injuries are down due to safer cars, harsher drunk driving laws, seat belt laws, etc…;
  • malpractice claims paid by doctors’ insurers dropped by 57% from 1992 to 2012;
  • in Texas, non-auto tort case filings dropped 60% between 1995 and 2014;
  • “advocates of lawsuit restrictions have succeeded in making many tort cases economically impossible for trial lawyers to file”;
  • membership in state trial lawyer associations is also down; and
  • “a long campaign by businesses to turn public opinion against plaintiffs and their lawyers.”

The article even touches on the fact that lien claims by health insurers has a chilling effect on plaintiffs’ and their lawyers’ willingness to file cases.

My Take:

This is a great summary of the decline in tort litigation and the various factors that caused it. Mr. Palazzolo did an excellent job.

The cause for the decline in the litigation industry is multifactorial. It’s hard to identify a single biggest cause when there are so many contributing causes.

What’s a bigger factor in the decline in medical malpractice filings? Non-economic damages caps or the public opinion that is both pro-doctor and anti-plaintiff / plaintiff lawyer?

The natural question that follows is what does this mean for the legal industry in the future?