• You think the number of civil lawsuit filings in California has gone up since 2009…wanna bet? Tuesday, November 27, 2012

    In a recent blog post about funding for California’s court system, Tom Scott, executive director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, writes the following:

    According to the National Center for State Courts, there were more than 1.2 million civil cases filed in California in 2009, the most recent year data was available….Given the trend in litigation in California, I’m willing to bet that the number of civil lawsuits filed in California has not decreased since 2009.

    Hey Tom, I’ll take that bet!

    Two points to make about what Mr. Scott has written:

    1) 2009 is not the most recent year for which data are available from the National Center for State Courts. Click on the link Tom provided above, then click on CSP in the upper left corner of that page to go to the home page for the NCSC’s Court Statistics Project…and, lo and behold, right there you’ll find “An Analysis of 2010 State Court Caseloads.” (And, as we will see, even more recent data is available from the state.)

    2) And in that 2010 report, the number of civil lawsuits filed in California was lower in 2010 than it was in 2009.

    But let’s not stop there. Let’s get numbers directly from the California court system, which recently issued its 2012 Court Statistics Report, including even more recent data for the 2010-11 fiscal year. On page 96 of that PDF (page 83 of the report) are numbers for civil case filings in each of the last 10 fiscal years, showing not only a drop from FY 09 to FY 10 but a further drop in FY 11. The number of civil filings in 2010-11 was 11.6% less than the number of filings in 2008-09, which was the high point of the 10-year period.

    What was that about the trend of litigation in California?

    Either Mr. Scott was lazy in his research before writing his blog post, or in the worst case was intentionally trying to mislead his readers. Neither conclusion marks him as a reliable source for analysis on this issue.

    Here’s something else from that 2010 National Center for State Courts report that flies in the face of the corporate lobby’s contention that California is somehow an overly litigious state. There’s a table on page 9 of the PDF of the report ranking 29 states and the District of Columbia by number of civil suits filed per capita in 2010. California ranks 28th of the 30 jurisdictions and was 38% below the median for the group. Yes, California has a lot of civil lawsuits (although many fewer than New York or Florida). It also has by far the largest population.

    The NCSC report goes on to show that the civil court dockets in many states are dominated by corporate plaintiffs. In the 17 states that maintain adequate records (California is not one of them), 61% of their civil cases in 2010 were contract cases, typically filed by businesses and often against other businesses. Tort cases, including those typically filed by consumers such as personal injury, wrongful death and medical malpractice, made up just 6% of those states’ civil caseloads in 2010.

    Remember, when the corporate lobby complains about “too many lawsuits,” they’re not complaining about the number of suits they file. They’re complaining about being held accountable in the civil justice system by consumers. And your suits require court time and resources that could be spent on their suits.

    Going back to Tom Scott’s blog post, we do agree with his main point: cuts in California’s courts budget are bad for California…bad for businesses and bad for consumers.

    –J.G. Preston

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