DOJ Study Profiles Lawsuits Decided at Trial in the State Court System

A study recently released by the Department of Justice paints an interesting picture of civil cases that were tried during 2005 in the nation’s state courts. The study focused on cases in courts of general jurisdiction, and it divided them into three major categories: contract, tort and real property. Among the findings:


•· Only about 3% of the cases that were filed ended up advancing through trial, with the remainder presumably dismissed or settled.

•· In contract cases, plaintiffs won 66% of cases. Tort plaintiffs won 52%. Plaintiffs won 56% of all trials in the study.

•· Juries found for the plaintiff 54% of the time. Judges were more likely to find for the plaintiff in the cases they tried, 68% of the time.

•· The median award to plaintiffs who won was $28,000.

•· 62% of the winning plaintiffs received $50,000 or less.

•· The biggest median awards were in cases involving: product liability (apparently asbestos and non-asbestos), $500,000; medical malpractice, $400,000; and false arrest or imprisonment, $259,000.

•· Professional malpractice (not including medical) had a median award value of $129,000.

•· The most common type of civil case going to trial involved a motor vehicle accident, 35%. Those plaintiffs accounted for more than 40% of all plaintiff award winners.

•· The plaintiffs most likely to win tort cases had been involved in an animal attack; 75% of those plaintiffs prevailed.  Other plaintiffs most likely to win tort cases: motor vehicle accident, 64%; asbestos, 55%; intentional tort, 52%.

•· The most likely winner of a contract case? The plaintiff in a mortgage foreclosure, 89%.

•· The most frequently lost cases were those involving false arrest or imprisonment, where only 16% of plaintiffs won. Other frequent losers were product liability other than asbestos, 20%; and medical malpractice, 23%.

•· Punitive damages were requested in 13% of the cases that were won by plaintiffs. Plaintiffs recovered punitive damages in 5% of the cases that were won by plaintiffs.

•· The median punitive damage award was $64,000. The punitive damages awarded were greater than the compensatory damages awarded in 37% of the tort cases in which a plaintiff won punitive damages. Punitives were higher than compensatory damages in 62% of contract trials where punitives were awarded.

•· Most cases were tried within two years of being filed.

•· Notices of appeal were filed in 17% of the cases tried.


The study gives the impression of a system dealing with large numbers of small cases, particularly auto accidents, which lower the median values of other cases. It does not address cases dismissed or settled; nor does it address other costs of litigation such as attorneys fees and productivity lost as a result of a dispute.


The report can be obtained at the Department of Justice website.