BJS: Bureau of Justice Statistics

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Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS)
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Tort, contract and real property trials
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State courts

In 2005 there were an estimated 26,950 tort, contract, and real property trials in state courts of general jurisdiction nationwide.

Civil bench and jury trials in state courts nationwide, 2005

Trial type and outcome Number of trials  
Total 26,948  
Jury trials 18,404  
  Plaintiff winners 10,012  
  Plaintiff winners awarded $1 million or more 1,159  
Bench trials 8,543  
  Plaintiff winners 5,809  
  Plaintiff winners awarded $1 million or more 137  
       

During 2005, juries decided 68% (18,404) of the nearly 27,000 civil trial cases disposed of by state courts of general jurisdiction nationwide.

-- Tort cases (90%) were more likely than contract cases (36%) or real property cases (26%) to be decided by jury trial.
-- In 76% of jury trials, individuals sued other individuals or businesses.
-- In 54% of jury trials, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff.
-- The median total award for a plaintiff winner in jury trials was $30,500.
-- In 6.3% of jury trials, the plaintiff winner was awarded $1 million or more in compensatory and punitive damages.

During 2005, judges decided 32% (8,543) of the nearly 27,000 civil trials disposed of by state courts of general jurisdiction nationwide.

-- The majority of contract cases (64%) and real property cases (74%) were disposed by bench trial.
-- In 35% of bench trials, businesses sued other businesses or individuals.
-- Plaintiffs won in 68% of bench trials.
-- The median total award for a plaintiff winner was $24,000.
-- In 1.6% of bench trials, the plaintiff winner was awarded $1 million or more in compensatory and punitive damages.

Federal courts

Tort trial cases terminated in
U.S. district courts, 2002 - 2003
Total number tort cases concluded: 98,786
Jury and bench tort trials 1,647
Tort trials with plaintiff winners

704

Tort trials with monetary awards 590
Median damage awards $201,000

 

Of the 98,786 tort cases that were terminated in U.S. district courts during fiscal years 2002 and 2003, 1,647 or 2% were decided by a bench or jury trial.

  • The total number of tort cases - including settlements, dismissals, and verdicts - concluded in U.S. district courts has varied widely throughout the 1990's and early 2000's. The changes in federal tort caseloads reflect the strong influence of product liability cases.
  • After reaching a peak of 3,600 trials in 1985, the number of tort cases concluded by bench or jury trial has declined by nearly 80%.
  • The percentage of tort cases concluded by trial in U.S. district courts has also declined from 10% in the early 1970s to 2% in 2003.
  • From 1990 to 2003, the number of non-asbestos product liability trials concluded in U.S. district courts has declined by about two-thirds from 279 to 87 trials. During this period, plaintiffs prevailed in nearly a third of non-asbestos product liability trials.
  • Motor vehicle claims comprised 20% of tort trials, product liability 13%, and medical malpractice 10%.
  • Diversity of jurisdiction was the jurisdictional basis for nearly two-thirds of tort trials concluded in U.S. district courts in 2002 - 2003.
  • A judge or jury found for the plaintiff in about half of tort trials concluded in U.S. district courts during 2002- 2003.
  • Plaintiffs prevailed less frequently in trials involving medical malpractice (37%) or product liability (34%) issues compared to motor vehicle accident cases (57%).
  • Plaintiffs who prevailed in tort trials concluded in 2002-2003 received an estimated median damage award of $201,000.
  • The tort case categories with the highest estimated median damage awards included medical malpractice ($600,000) and product liability ($350,000) cases.
  • Juries decided 71% of tort cases brought to trial. Plaintiffs won more often in judge compared to jury trials.

Data Collections & Surveys

Publications & Products


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

Civil Rights Complaints in U.S. District Courts, 1990 - 2006 "Civil rights cases filed in U.S. District Courts declined by nearly 20 percent from 2003 to 2006"
  Press Release | More information about this release

Medical Malpractice Insurance Claims in Seven States, 2000-2004 "Majority of medical malpractice claims in seven states closed without compensation payments"
  Press Release | More information about this release

Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001 & Medical Malpractice Trials and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001 "Plaintiffs won 55 percent of civil trials in the Nation's 75 most populous counties during 2001"
  Press Release | Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001 (More information about this release) | Medical Malpractice Trials and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001 (More information about this release)

Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001 Presents findings on tort, contract, and real property cases disposed by jury or bench trial in 2001 in the nation's 75 largest counties.
  Press Release | PDF (337K) | ASCII file (34K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 60K) | To order paper version
Part of the Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties Series

Contract Trials and Verdicts in Large Counties, 1996 "Plaintiffs won 62 percent of the contract trial cases in the Nation's 75 largest counties during 1996"
  Press Release | More information about this release

Civil Rights Complaints in U.S. District Courts, 1990-98 "More than 42,000 civil rights complaints filed in Federal district courts during 1998"
  Press Release | More information about this release

Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties, 1996 Presents findings on tort, contract, and real property cases disposed by jury or bench trial in 1996 in the Nation's 75 largest counties.
  Press Release (4K) | PDF (259K) | ASCII file (127K) | Spreadsheet (Zip format 56K) | Codebooks and Datasets
Part of the Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties Series

Federal Tort Trials and Verdicts, 1996-97 Presents findings about Federal tort trials in the U.S. district courts for 1996-97.
  PDF (424K) | ASCII file (56K) | Codebooks and Datasets | To order paper version
Part of the Federal Tort Trials and Verdicts Series

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