“Civil Justice in Wisconsin:  A Fact Book”
by Marc Galanter & Susan Steingass of the University of Wisconsin Law School

Study finds excessive litigation claims in state are bogus

A 2009 publication entitled Civil Justice in Wisconsin – A Fact Book, authored by two members of the University of Wisconsin Law School, does an excellent job of looking at the civil justice system in Wisconsin.  

The authors, Professors Marc Galanter and Susan Steingass, point out that civil case filings have been more or less constant for the last dozen years.   Wisconsin continued to rank well below the national average in cases, ranking 31st among the 50 states in cases filed per 100,000 residents. Whatever the reason, it is clear that Wisconsinites turn to the courts at a lower rate compared to neighboring states and the U.S. as a whole.
Click here to obtain a copy of the booklet.

Executive Summary

  • While the total number of all civil filings in Wisconsin increased by 34.2 percent from 1996-2007, the biggest component of the increase was small claims. Nearly two-thirds (60.9 percent) of the civil filings in Wisconsin’s courts are small claims, which are mostly suits to collect debts. Only one out of eleven (8.9 percent) of these small claims are contested.  (pages 12-14)
  • The second largest single group of civil cases is in the area of family law, including divorce, support/maintenance (what used to be called alimony), paternity, and domestic abuse, child abuse, and harassment combined with vulnerable adult temporary restraining orders. Together, these law matters made up some 14.9 percent of cases in 2007. (page 14)
  • The greatest growth occurred in cases about contracts. These cases grew from 7.4 percent of filings in 1996 to 15.27 percent in 2007.  The actual number of contract cases nearly tripled between 1996 and 2007, due in substantial part to the dramatic, almost fivefold, increase in mortgage foreclosures from 4,261 in 1996 to 21,042 in 2007. (page 16)
  • The number of tort filings in Wisconsin fell 17.4 percent from 1996 to 2007. When the rising population is factored into these figures, we find that per capita tort filings fell 24.1 percent from 158.4 per 100,000 persons in 1996 to 120.7 in 2007. (page 17)
  • Almost two-thirds of tort claims in Wisconsin’s state courts (65.3 percent in 2007) arise from automobile accidents.  (page 18)
  • The number of medical malpractice cases are declining, falling 34.21 percent between 1996 and 2007. (page 20)
  • The doctor population of Wisconsin has been rising and with medical malpractice filings declining, there has been a corresponding decline in medical malpractice suits per practicing physician in the state. (page 20)
  • In 2001 in Milwaukee, both the median award ($19,000) and the mean award ($103,030) were far lower than the awards in the large counties in our neighboring states and lower than the seventy-five counties largest counties in the country. Awards in Milwaukee were less than two-thirds of the overall median. (page 30)
  • Wisconsin, with about 2 percent of the U.S. population, has about 1.3 percent of the country’s lawyers. The ratio of population to lawyers in the U.S. in 2000 was 264 to 1. In Wisconsin, it was 401 to 1. The ratio of lawyers to population is lower in Wisconsin than in the United States as a whole and lower than in all but the most rural of our neighboring states. (page 31)

Civil Case Filings in 2009

A review of case filings in the Wisconsin Court System for 2009
by Ruth Simpson, WAJ Research Director, The Verdict, Summer 2010

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