The tort tangle

Albuquerque Tribune
Monday, December 13, 2004

It's a tort system that has produced stories, sometimes exaggerated and sometimes accurate, of plaintiffs receiving millions for alleged harm from the products, services and actions of other people.
But the Center for Justice and Democracy, a nonprofit organization working on informing the public about the civil justice system and tort reform, calls Tillinghast's numbers misleading.
A full 14.9 percent of Tillinghast's estimate is attributed to insurance companies' overhead expenses; the center points out such expenses can include everything from executive salaries to rent and advertising. Tillinghast's estimate also includes insurance claims paid out without any lawsuits being filed.
"It's just too broad," says Geoff Boehm, legal director at the center.
And despite Tillinghast's estimation of increasing tort costs, the number of tort trials decided by jury and the monetary awards they produced in 2001 is lower than it was in 1992, according to a 2004 study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice.
The study, based on data from America's 75 largest counties, showed the median award in all tort jury trials going from $64,000 in 1992 to $28,000 in 2001, and the total number of tort jury trials dropping from 9,431 in 1992 to 7,218 in 2001.
In New Mexico, the number of tort filings went from 356 per 100,000 people in 1993 to 205 per 100,000 people in 2002, according to a 2003 study by the National Center for State Courts. The study also showed that the number of tort filings in 35 states dropped 4 percent from 1993 to 2002.
For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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