Trends in California tort liability litigation

by Deborah R. Hensler

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This paper, testimony presented before the California State Legislature's Assembly Select Committee on Insurance, covers trends in liability litigation in California. Over the past decade, personal injury lawsuits filed statewide have increased substantially. Automobile accident filing rates are roughly equal to population increase, but the rate of increase in other types of lawsuits has considerably outstripped population growth. A smaller fraction of personal injury lawsuits are fully contested, and the number of such cases tried to verdict has dropped in San Francisco, and probably elsewhere. Recent San Francisco verdicts are similar to those in other major jurisdictions. Increases in jury awards have been higher for product liability and medical malpractice cases--a significant proportion of the personal injury caseload--than for the slower-growing automobile accident cases. The vast majority of cases are settled, not tried. Although most practitioners assume that settlement amounts in personal injury cases are strongly influenced by jury verdicts, no comprehensive study examines how such trends are related to trends in settlement. The growth in jury verdicts has probably been reflected in trends in total compensation.

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