Does Wisconsin and the U.S. generally need “tort reform?” Are too many (or an increasing number) of lawsuits being filed, with too many plaintiffs receiving large awards, and too many businesses suffering due to law suits by individuals?
As a plaintiff’s employment attorney, I have shared my own observations and biases in trying to answer questions like these. See, for example, my blog posts “Biggest Risk to Employers? Frivolous Suits? No. The (Expensive) Certainty of Being “Right” and “Corporate Rhetoric, the Decline of Individual Rights, and What You Can Do About It.”
My views aside, the best answers to the questions above are non-biased and objective answers, grounded in statistics and facts. While it is my opinion no one can give answers that are purely objective and non-biased, folks interested in the questions above should check out this resource, which is much more objective than my blog posts: “Civil Justice in Wisconsin: A Fact Book, with Commentary” by Marc Galanter and Susan Steingass, of The University of Wisconsin Law School.
(I heard of this fact book via the excellent blog by Jon Groth, a Wisconsin personal injury attorney).
I’ll quote the Fact book’s conclusion below, which is a summary of some important information covered, although you should read the full fact book (a 23-page Adobe document) for detailed and statistical information that addresses questions like those above. The full fact book is here.
In many ways, Wisconsin is very much like its neighbors and like the rest of the nation. Overall, resort to the courts is increasing, but most of this increase is in the family and contract areas. Tort filings are decreasing relative to population and in absolute numbers. The portion of cases that reach trial, especially jury trial, is decreasing. When cases do get to trial, median awards are mostly lower than in the recent past.
If we look further to see how Wisconsin is distinctive, we find that even with the limitations of the data, Wisconsin has a modest amount of
litigation in comparison with our neighbors and the rest of the nation. Most non-family civil cases are filed by businesses against individual defendants; where individuals sue businesses, the awards are comparatively modest.
This relatively low resort to the courts is reflected in a lawyer population that is relatively small and slow growing. The costs imposed by the civil justice system are palpable; the benefits that it confers are less apparent – indeed to the extent that they are effective, they fade from view. The same system of justice that protects citizens, protects and facilitates businesses. Businesses use the civil justice system to enforce contracts and collect debts. The security of property rights afforded by the civil law enables them to raise capital, borrow, and extend credit. They enjoy the protections of the tort system in deterring injurious behavior by others. All of this is so routine that it easily escapes our attention. This should remind us that citizens and businesses have a shared interest in an effective civil justice system. We hope that this booklet helps provide the basis for an informed public discussion.”