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Is There a Lawsuit Crisis in America?

Myth – The civil jury system is a uniquely American Institution.
Fact – The origins of the jury system have been traced to ancient Egypt (c. 2000 B.C.).1 The right to trial by jury was guaranteed to English citizens by the Magna Carta, signed by King John at Runnymede in 1215.2

Myth – The United States Constitution does not guarantee a jury trial in a civil case.
Fact – The Seventh Amendment to the Constitution, a key component of the Bill of Rights, guarantees to all Americans the right to trial by jury in any controversy involving more than twenty dollars.

Myth – The right to trial by jury was not important to the Founding Fathers.
Fact – Among the principle abuses of the English monarchy which let to the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution were the suspension of the right to habeas corpus and the denial of the right to trial by jury.3 The determination of liability and the assessment of damages are both questions which the common law reserved to the jury.4

Myth – The unemployed and illiterate make up juries and are not a true representation of the American populace.
Fact – Juries are typically chosen from voter and driver lists, which provide a fair representation of the population. A recent study indicates that the average prospective juror is educated, is employed, has a reasonable income, is somewhat older and is married.5

Myth – Juries have their own agendas when deciding cases and reach bizarre results.
Fact – As former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas stated, the jury is the only agency of the government with no ambition and no political gain to be had from their verdicts.6 In a recent poll, 82% of former jurors believed that the civil jury on which they served reached a fair conclusion in the case.7

Myth – People dislike serving on juries.
Fact – A National Center for State Courts survey revealed that 81% of those who served n juries had a favorable attitude toward jury service.8

Myth – The use of the jury system causes unwarranted delay in the administration of justice.
Fact – Although the vast majority (97-98%) of cases filed are resolved before trial, the average time elapsed from the filing of a lawsuit to a jury verdict is 2 1/2 years.9 For those cases going to trial, most litigants would prefer to have their cases decided by a jury than solely by a judge.10 The availability of a civil jury trial may actually aid a pretrial conclusion of the matter.

Myth – In civil cases, jurors often arrive at wrong or misinformed decisions, usually finding for the plaintiff.
Fact – A recent Department of Justice study shows that out of all cases decided by a jury, the plaintiff was favored in 52% of such cases.11 A University of Delaware study found that jurors were generally favorable toward business and committed to holding down awards.12

Myth – Punitive damage awards are out of control.
Fact – Punitive damages were awarded in only 6% of the cases in which the plaintiff was successful, according to the same Department of Justice study. The median punitive damage award was $50,000.13 The overwhelming majority of plaintiffs who received punitive damages suffered catastrophic injury or death.14

Myth – Premiums for medical malpractice insurance and medical malpractice verdicts are driving up health care costs.
Fact – Malpractice insurance premiums for physicians account for less than 1% of the overall costs of health care in America.15 Furthermore, patients win fewer than one-third of the suits filed against doctors and hospitals.16

Myth – Personal injury awards are excessive.
Fact – In 1994, juries awarded compensatory damages of less than $100,000 in 59% of all cases tried.17 The amounts awarded correlate closely with the severity of the personal injury.18

Myth – Product Liability awards are out of control.
Fact – Compensatory damage awards in product liability cases actually declined during the period 1985-1994.19

Myth – America has too many lawyers – more than any other country.
Fact – The United States has 9.4% of the worlds lawyers and ranks 35th in number of lawyers on a per capita basis. Among those ranked ahead of us are Japan, France and Italy.20 The majority of American Lawyers are not involved in civil litigation.

Myth – By reducing the number of lawyers, the cost of litigation and the number of lawsuits will drop.
Fact – Without the presence of lawyers in our society, the right of the people would be unprotected. Products are safer, health care is improved, and the environment is cleaner due in part to the efforts of lawyers. Reducing the number of lawyers diminishes the benefits produced by lawyers to protect the rights of all Americans.


Notes

1. Moore, The Jury: The Tool of Kings, Palladium of Liberty (W.H. Anderson 1975), p. vii

2. Churchill, A History of the English Speaking Peoples I (Dorset Press 1956), p. 254

3. Boyd v. Budala, 672 F 2d 915, 918-19 (W.D.Va 1987)

4. Id.

5. “The Relationship of Juror Fees and Terms of Service to Jury System Performance,” National Center for State Courts (March 1991), p. 26-27

6. Guinther, The Jury in America (Roscoe Pound Foundation 1988), p. xiii

7. Yankevich/Talmey-Drake, National Survey on Tort Reform (January 1995)

8. National Center for State Courts, supra, p.6

9. U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Justice Survey of State Courts, 1992 (July 1995)

10. National Law Journal (February 22, 1993), p. S2

11. Civil Justice Survey of State Courts, 1992 (July 1995)

12. Hans and Lofquist, Jurors’ Judgments of Business Liability in Tort Cases: Implication for the Litigation Explosion Debate (1992), p.93

13. Civil Justice Survey of State Courts, 1992 (July 1995)

14. Statement of Lucinda M. Finley, SUNY-Buffalo Professor of Law, to Senate Subcommittee on Courts and Administrative Practice (March 15, 1994)

15. Testimony of Robert Reischauer, Director, Congressional Budget Office, to Committee n Ways and Means (March) 4, 1992)

16. Jury Verdict Research, Inc., 1994 Study of Medical Malpractice Verdicts

17. Jury Verdict Research, Inc., as reported in The Wall Street Journal (March 24, 1995)

18. Taragin, “The Influence of Standard of Care and Severity of Injury on the Resolution of Medical Malpractice Claims,” Annals of Internal Medicine (November 1, 1992), pp. 780-784

19. Jury Verdict Research, Inc., as reported in The Wall Street Journal (March 13, 1995)

20. August, “The Mythical Kingdom of Lawyers,” ABA Journal (September 1992), pp. 72-74

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