It turns out that Americans aren't as litigious as we once were. Statistics show the number of tort lawsuits filed in America has fallen sharply over the past two decades. The report from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) says fewer than two in 1,000 Americans filed a tort claim in 2015, down from about 10 in 1,000 in 1993. Tort claims are civil suits filed to recover damages, mainly due to driving incidents, medical malpractice, or faulty consumer products.
There are several reasons for the decline in lawsuits, notably the wave of tort reform laws that has swept the country in recent decades. That includes here Texas, where just this year the Legislature passed the so-called "Hail Storm Bill" to limit attorney's fees and punitive damages in storm damage cases. "Tort reform is one factor," says Gregory Mize, federal judge and NCSC member. "Other factors include the big recession of 2008, persons having fewer resources, and the prospect of hiring a lawyer to pursue a claim or to defend a claim...people give up on pursuing a tort claim for lack of resources."
Another factor is that many people now elect to settle claims rather than taking them to a lengthy trial. "It's time consuming to wait for months or years to finally get a final judgment," says Mize.
While acknowledging that tort reform has resulted in fewer Americans taking advantage of the courts to redress grievances, Mize believes judges and attorneys can do more to help people access the system. He wants to follow tort reform with court reform. "We want to make our courts run more effectively so that people don't have to wait as long to get a judgment, and so that it's not as expensive to pursue your remedy," he says. "I think that access to justice is the name of the game."