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Tort Reform: Straight From the Horse's (or the Judge's) Mouth

For years, Texas residents have been hearing about runaway juries, frivolous lawsuits, and the need for tort reform. But most of the stories in the popular press and thrown around by tort reform groups are anecdotal; there has always been a question of how to best gather data to measure whether jury awards are excessive or suits are frivolous. Several law professors at Baylor think they’ve found the answer. As they say:

[We] believed that asking state court trial judges — “the daily observer of the jury system in action” — would yield the most reliable information on the state of the jury system. The trial judge is the only one in a position to have both seen the same evidence as the jury and yet to be completely non-partisan about the proceedings. Further the trial judge has the benefit of seeing the jury system at work in many cases and is unlikely to form views about the legitimacy of a tort crises based upon anecdotal information about one particular case. Thus, the trial judge would “appear to be the person most capable of forming an informed and objective opinion about the value of civil juries.”

So, for the last two years, the professors have conducted a survey of Texas District Court Judges to get their views on the “litigation crises.” After receiving responses from an astounding 78% of Texas district court judges, the results of the survey were released in the Baylor Law Review in an article titled Straight From the Horse’s Mouth: Judicial Observations of Jury Behavior and the Need For Tort Reform.

Because the article is not yet publicly available, we don’t want to provide too many details.  But we will say that among the results were findings that substantially more judges thought juries had awarded too low of damages than judges that thought juries had awarded too much.  And well over 80% of the judges did not think there needed to be additional “reform” to address frivolous lawsuits.

This research provides some groundbreaking, quantifiable evidence about the need (or lack thereof) for additional tort reform. It’s a great read (that’s unfortunately not available on-line), but we encourage everyone interested in tort reform or limits on damages in personal injury cases to seek out a copy of the entire article. Our only criticism? With both of us University of Texas grads, we wish some of our faculty in Austin had conducted the study instead of it coming from Waco.

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