A new law review article recently published by the Baylor Law Review (Vol 59, Summer 2007) provides emperical data suggesting “tort reform” is unnecessary.
In “Straight From the Horse’s Mouth: Judicial Observations of Jury Behavior and The Need for Tort Reform”, the authors surveyed state court judges in Texas and found very interesting results, some of which are summarized below.
Regarding actual and exemplary damages, the survey found:
Over 83% of the Texas district court judges had observed not a single instance of a
“runaway jury” verdict on either actual or exemplary damages during the preceding
48 months before the survey.
Over 85% of judges had not at all or in only one instance granted relief during the
past four years due to an excessive award of actual damages. No judge in the entire
sampling had granted such relief during the prior four years in more than three cases.
Over 83% of Texas judges had not witnessed a single jury award too high
15% of Texas trial judges observed juries refuse to make any award of punitive
damages when the judge believed such an award was warranted by the evidence.
Regarding “frivilous lawsuits”, the survey found:
44% of the judges had not personally observed a single frivolous lawsuit in their
courtroom during the prior four years.
99% had observed no more than between 1-25% of the cases filed before them as being
85% of the responding judges had at most sanctioned a lawyer
only one time or less during the prior four years.
Over 86% of the responding judges believed that there was no need for further legislation
addressing frivolous lawsuits.
Out of 389 state court judges in Texas, 303 returned the survey to the authors.
The survey results confirm that most Texas trial judges do not see significant numbers of
frivolous filings by people who have no business suing, and plaintiffs with legitimate
suits are much more likely to be under compensated than to receive any windfall. Two
primary goals for tort jurisprudence are for the victim to receive full compensation and to
deter the tortfeasor, and when victims are not fully compensated and tortfeasors are not
deterred, neither goal is met.