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Posted in Commercial Litigation on July 31, 2017   |  by Gary Burger

Lawsuits in the US

Tort Reform in Missouri

With Governor Greitens' tort reform measures going into effect in about a month, I looked at the impact of personal injury lawsuits on courts in Missouri and around the country. My findings may surprise you.

Lawsuits in the US

A public opinion poll taken on November 8, 2016 showed 87% of voters agreed there were “too many lawsuits filed in America." But claims that tort lawsuits clog up Courts is fake news. In the last 15 years tort lawsuits comprise just 2-3% of cases filed each year in Missouri. Many judicial circuits and counties in Missouri go all year without a trial in a personal injury case. And the number of Missouri tort lawsuits keeps going down.

This chart depicts the decline in the number of tort cases filed in Missouri from 2000 to 2016:

A report by the National Center for State courts stated their analysis showed tort cases declined from 16% of civil filings in state courts in 1993 to about 4% in 2015, which is a difference of more than 1.7 million cases nationwide.

Nationwide, fewer than 2 in 1,000 people filed tort lawsuits in 2015. Tort lawsuits now account for less than 5% of all civil filings in State courts. Contact cases where big corporations and creditors go against individuals to collect debts are about half of all civil cases. We don't hear politicians lamenting these cases.

In Missouri, breach of contract and collection cases accounted for over 40% of the cases filed on average since 2000. As you can see below, debt collection cases greatly outnumber personal injury cases. In fact, lawyers sit through long docket calls for creditor cases - not PI cases.

This chart depicts the number of breach of contract and collections cases filed in Missouri in 2000, 2008, and 2016. The steep rise in 2008 is due to the housing market crash.

Most civil cases are filed in State Courts versus Federal Courts. (lately - 15 million in State Courts v. 281,608 in Federal Courts). Court cases declined from 16% of civil filings in State Courts in 1993 to about 4% in 2015- the difference of more than 1.7 million cases nationwide.

The "too many lawsuits" business and insurance lobby prompted tort reform in the late 90’s and 2000’s. This continues today with the tort reform led by governors including Governor Greitens in Missouri. I have written about this in the past. More than 30 States have capped damages in medical malpractices cases and other cases since the 1970’s. After tort reform passed in our neighboring state of Kansas, tort filings fell by 40% from 2000 to 2015. Tort reform often gives insurers the ability to play hard ball when dealing with small cases and drive down the value of these cases as it is expensive to pursue these cases and try these cases. I encounter this on a regular basis. Even though I have been doing this for 25 years and think I know what I am going, I still get adjustors on the other side low balling me on claims, forcing us to file many cases. We filed 75 lawsuits so far this year in our firm. Most tort cases end in judgments of $12,000 or less and only 2% of civil cases result in judgments more than $500,000.

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