BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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Since 1992, BJS has sponsored periodic surveys examining civil trial and appellate litigation in state courts. These surveys are titled the Civil Justice Survey of State Courts. The Civil Justice Survey of State Courts examines the adjudication of general civil (that is tort, contract, and real property) cases by trial in state courts and has occurred every 4 to 5 years encompassing the time periods of 1992, 1996, 2001, and 2005. The Civil Justice Survey of State Courts data collection series serves as the primary source for detailed level information on civil cases adjudicated by trial in state courts. Unlike BJS’ data collection efforts in the criminal justice area, this data collection series covers cases involving personal injury claims or contractual disputes between private individuals or organizations. Some of the most common types of personal injury lawsuits involve legal issues stemming from automobile accident, physician or surgeon medical malpractice, faulty products (e.g., asbestos, tobacco), and slip and fall cases. The information collected by the Civil Justice Survey of State Courts includes the types of civil cases concluded by bench or jury trial, the types of plaintiffs and defendants who litigate these cases, trial winners, the amount of compensatory and punitive damages awarded, post-trial activity, and case processing time.

In addition, BJS has recently fielded studies examining civil trials on appeal. These studies followed civil trials concluded in 2001 or 2005 in state trial courts that were appealed to an intermediate appellate court or court of last resort. The types of information collected from these studies includes the types of civil cases appealed after trial to an intermediate appellate court or court of last resort, the impact of the appellate process on trial court outcomes, the extent that appellate claims are dismissed or withdrawn before being decided on the merits, the types of legal issues raised on appeal, the number of appeals ending in a published opinion, and the rate of judicial dissent at the appellate level.

BJS has also produced several reports examining civil litigation in Federal District courts.

Summary findings from latest survey examining civil trials in state courts.

Among the 26,948 civil trials concluded in a national sample of state trial courts in 2005:

  • In 2005 plaintiffs won in more than half (56%) of all general civil trials concluded in state courts. Among all plaintiff winners the median final award was $28,000. Approximately 4% of all plaintiff winners won $1,000,000 or more. Contract cases in general had higher median awards ($35,000) than tort cases ($24,000).
  • The total number of civil trials declined by over 50% from 1992 to 2005 in the nation’s 75 most populous counties. Tort cases decreased the least (40%) while real property (77%) and contract (63%) cases registered the largest declines.
  • In the nation's 75 most populous counties, some tort case categories have seen marked increases in their median jury awards. This was particularly the case for product liability trials, where the median awards were about 5 times higher in 2005 than in 1992 and for medical malpractice trials, where the median jury awards more than doubled from $280,000 in 1992 to $682,000 in 2005.

Data Collections & Surveys

Publications & Products


Appeals of Civil Trials Concluded in 2005 Presents information on civil trials concluded in state trial courts in 2005 with judgments or verdicts later appealed to an intermediate appellate court or court of last resort.
  PDF (1.1M) | ASCII file (25K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 19K)

Punitive Damage Awards in State Courts, 2005 Presents findings on civil trials concluded in 2005 in a national sample of state trial courts in which punitive damages were requested or awarded.
  PDF (537K) | ASCII file (27K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 33K)

Contract Bench and Jury Trials in State Courts, 2005 Presents findings on contract cases disposed of by a bench or jury trial in a nationally representative sample of jurisdictions in 2005.
  PDF (456K) | ASCII file (25) | Zip format (24K)
Part of the Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties Series

Civil Bench and Jury Trials in State Courts, 2005 "In 2005, less than 5 percent of plaintiffs who won in civil bench and jury trials received damages exceeding $1 million"
  Press Release | More information about this release

Civil Bench and Jury Trials in State Courts, 2005 Discusses general civil cases (tort, contract, and real property) concluded by a bench or jury trial in a national sample of jurisdictions in 2005.
  Press Release | PDF (290K) | ASCII file (34K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 24K) | To order paper version

Medical Malpractice Insurance Claims in Seven States, 2000-2004 Focuses on medical malpractice claims that were closed in the states of Florida, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, and Texas from 2000 to 2004.
  Press Release | PDF (190K) | ASCII file (31K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 14K) | To order paper version

Federal Tort Trials and Verdicts, 2002-03 "Number of Federal tort trials fell by almost 80 percent from 1985 through 2003."
  Press Release | More information about this release

Punitive Damage Awards in Large Counties, 2001 Presents findings on civil trials concluded in 2001 in the Nation's 75 largest counties that produced a punitive damage award.
  PDF (521K) | ASCII file (7K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 13K) | Codebooks and Datasets

Contract Trials and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001 Presents findings on contract cases disposed by jury or bench trials in 2001 in the Nation's 75 largest counties.
  PDF (337K) | ASCII file (34K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 60K) | Codebooks and Datasets
Part of the Contract Trials and Verdicts in Large Counties Series

Tort Trials and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001 Provides findings about tort cases disposed of by jury and bench trial in general jurisdiction courts in the Nation's 75 largest counties during 2001.
  PDF (543K) | ASCII file (34K) | ZIP Format (Spreadsheet 37K) | Codebooks and Datasets | To order paper version
Part of the Tort Trials and Verdicts in Large Counties Series

Terms & Definitions

Felony or Serious Misdemeanor The category of offenses for which fingerprints and criminal history information are accepted by the FBI and entered in the Bureau's files, including the III system. Serious misdemeanor is defined to exclude certain minor offenses, such as drunkenness or minor traffic offenses.