Plaintiffs won in more than half of state court civil trials in 2005 and were more likely to get a favorable verdict in bench than jury trials, according to a new U.S. Department of Justice report.
Plaintiffs won in 56 percent of all general civil trial cases. Judges ruled in their favor in 68 percent of the cases, while juries favored the plaintiffs 54 percent of the time.
The report was released Tuesday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice. The study is the first nationally representative measure of general civil bench and jury trials in state courts.
The report found that plaintiffs were awarded an estimated $6 billion in compensatory and punitive damages, with the final median damage award of $28,000. More than 14 percent of plaintiff winners were awarded damages of more than $250,000, while about 4 percent got more than $1 million.
State courts handled nearly 27,000 civil cases through bench or jury trials. Sixty-one percent of them involved a tort claim, and the most common tort claim involved motor vehicle accidents.
Out of the 14,000 civil trials that went in the plaintiffs' favor, punitive damages were awarded in about 5 percent of the cases, with $64,000 as the median punitive damages award.
The report also pointed to a major drop in the number of civil trials, with numbers decreasing by 52 percent from 1992 to 2005 in the nation's 75 most populous counties. In these counties, the median final award also decreased, from $72,000 in 1992, to $43,000 in 2005.
But some tort cases did see higher awards. In products liability trials, median awards were five times higher in 2005 and median medical malpractice awards more than doubled, from $280,000 in 1992 to $682,000 in 2005.