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19 Seattle U. L. Rev. 433 (1995-1996)
Litigation Outcomes in State and Federal Courts: A Statistical Portrait

handle is hein.journals/sealr19 and id is 471 raw text is: Litigation Outcomes in State and Federal Courts: A
Statistical Portrait
Theodore Eisenberg, John Goerdt, Brian Ostrom,
and David Rottman*
U.S. Juries Grow Tougher on Plaintiffs in Lawsuits, the New
York Times page-one headline reads.' The story details how, in 1992,
plaintiffs won 52 percent of the personal injury cases decided by jury
verdicts, a decline from the 63 percent plaintiff success rate in 1989.
The sound-byte explanations follow, including the notion that juries
have learned that they, as part of the general population, ultimately pay
the costs of high verdicts. Similar stories, reporting both increases and
decreases in jury award levels, regularly make headlines.2 Jury Verdict
Research, Inc. (JVR), a commercial service that sells case outcome
information, often is the source of the stories.
The stories highlight a major gap in our knowledge of the legal
system. Reported aggregate data tend to be exaggerated or incorrect.
For example, the figures reported in the Times article almost certainly
inflate plaintiff success rates for 1989 and report a time trend that
probably does not exist. In an era when court reform and tort reform
* Eisenberg is Professor of Law, Cornell Law School; Goerdt, Ostrom, and Rottman are
senior research associates with the National Center for State Courts. The research conducted by
the National Center for State Courts was supported by grant number 92-BJ-CX-K022 from the
Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). Points of view are those of the authors and do not necessarily
represent the policies or views of the BJS. The federal data used in this Article (federal court
cases: 1979-1993) were originally collected by the Federal Judicial Center. The data were made
available by the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research. Neither the Center
nor the Consortium bears any responsibility for the analyses presented here. We would like to
thank for their comments participants in a panel at the 1995 Law & Society Annual Meeting,
Toronto, June 3, 1995 and for its computer and data support the Cornell Institute for Social and
Economic Research.
1. Richard Perez-Pena, U.S. Juries Grow Tougher on Plaintiffs in Lawsuits, N.Y. TIMES,
June 17, 1994, at Al.
2. See, e.g., Richard Waters, Juries Cut Product Liability Awards, FIN. TIMES, Jan. 8, 1996,
available in WESTLAW, 1996 WL 6135704; Edward Felsenthal, Increase in Size of Jury Awards
May Spur Efforts to Alter System, WALL ST. J., Jan. 5, 1996, at B5; Jury Awards Return to Record-
Setting Levels, Report Says, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Dec. 26, 1995, available in WESTLAW, 1995
WL 4420942.
3. Perez-Pena, supra note 1, at B18.

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