The business community has long derided the civil justice system in Wisconsin for having "excessive litigation." Yet, what is the cause of the largest filing increases? The newest numbers from the Director of State Courts
show that the fastest growing area for case filings are contract and real estate cases while tort cases continue to decline.
The faltering economy has led to enormous growth in contract and real estates cases being filed. Foreclosures, 21,042 filed in 2007, are up 4 times what they were in 1998 and money judgments, 21,243 filed, are up 2.5 times during that same time period. Most of these cases involve a business suing another individual or business. Despite the large increases, no one is calling for changing the laws in the area of foreclosures or money judgments. Businesses see nothing wrong with increasing the workload of the courts when they try to resolve a dispute, yet continue to criticize individuals seeking justice through the civil justice system.
For the tenth straight year tort cases, encompassing product liability, automobile accidents and medical malpractice, decreased. In 1998 there were 9,418 tort cases filed compared to 7,377 in 2007. In fact tort cases make up a very small percentage of the Court’s caseload, only 2.4 percent of all civil case filings – 7,377 cases out of a total of 301,798 civil case filings.
In 2007 there were only 104 product liability actions and 150 medical malpractice cases filed. More than 30 counties in the state did not see either a product liability or medical malpractice action filed in 2007. This is despite the fact that each year 33.1 million people are injured by consumer products and up to 98,000 people die in hospitals.
Over 50,676 persons were injured and 737 were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2007 in Wisconsin, yet there were only 4,449 automobile cases filed. That means approximately one person out of every 11 injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash filed a lawsuit as a result. Despite comprising 60 percent of all personal injury cases filed in 2007, no one has claimed there was an automobile insurance “crisis” in Wisconsin. In fact, Wisconsin consumers pay almost 25 percent less per year for automobile insurance than consumers nationwide, ranking seventh lowest in the nation for automobile insurance rates, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
The facts show that it is businesses that are increasing the Court’s workload, while the number of tort cases is down. It is clear that any increase in litigation over the past 10 years
has been primarily a result of businesses suing others. There is absolutely no evidence of “excessive litigation” in the tort area.
The civil justice system works best when it works for all the citizens of Wisconsin. If businesses can use it to resolve their disputes, then injured citizens are entitled to the same rights. A strong civil justice system is good for Wisconsin citizens and good for the economy because it protects all citizens.
Christine Bremer Muggli is the President of the Wisconsin Association for Justice (formerly the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers), Wisconsin’s largest statewide voluntary attorney organization defending the civil justice system. Look for Christine’s columns each month.