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Publication Civil Bench and Jury Trials in State Courts, 2005

Lynn Langton, M.A., Thomas H. Cohen, J.D., Ph.D., Bureau of Justice Statistics

October 28, 2008    NCJ 223851

Discusses general civil cases (tort, contract, and real property) concluded by a bench or jury trial in a national sample of jurisdictions in 2005. Topics include the types of civil cases that proceed to trial, the differences between civil cases adjudicated by judges or juries, and the types of plaintiffs and defendants represented in civil trials. Also, the report covers plaintiffs' win rates, punitive damages, and the final award amounts generated in civil trial litigation. It examines trends in civil trial litigation in the nation's 75 most populous counties from 1992 to 2005. See also Civil Trial Cases and Verdicts in Large Counties, 2001.


  • In 2005 plaintiffs won in more than half (56%) of all general civil trials concluded in state courts. The plaintiff was significantly more likely to win in a bench trial compared to a jury trial. 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.

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