ACCIDENT COSTS

The costs of accidents every year are stupendous despite the downward trend in the accident rate. The National Safety Council estimates that in 2003, there were $605 billion in total economic losses from all types of accidents. The total economic loss figure includes medical expenses, wage losses, and property dam age. In addition, estimates of the “lost quality of life from all 2003 accidents are staggering —more than $1,350 billion. The lost quality of life values are cal- calculated from empirical studies based on what people pay to reduce safety and health risks, for example, in purchasing air bags, smoke detectors, etc. The studies provide the data for computations on life value and risks. The average economic loss for motor vehicle deaths in 2003 was $1.120,000, and $45,500 for disabling injuries. The motor vehicle accident costs for “lost quality of life in 2003 are estimated on average to be about $2.5 million per death and $135,500 per disabling injury.

Accident Data Summary

These unfortunate statistics teach us that accidents in the U.S. are a serious problem annually causing more than 100.000 deaths, 21 million disabling injuries, and costing over half a trillion dollars a year in economic and non-economic losses. In infectious disease terminology, this would be considered an epidemic. Improvements in accident prevention, safety design, safety education, safety regulations, tort law deterrence of unsafe conduct, and emergency medical care must be given high priorities by government and private parties. Traffic accidents remain a consistent annual national tragedy. Home accidents are becoming an equivalent problem in modern society. Improving and practicing safety must be a concern for each of us.

Public perception is that tort litigation is completely out of hand. Popular understanding is that the courts are overwhelmed with a flood of frivolous torts cases and that juries are granting excessive awards. Tort reform organizations have formed with considerable business backing to persuade the public and legislative bodies that changes are needed in the tort system. Proponents of reform have been remarkably successful in affecting public opinion and in lobbying for legislation in state legislatures and Congress. Proposals have been made that would make it more difficult to sue and more difficult to recover when suits are allowed, and that would restrict the size of compensatory and punitive damage awards.

No serious scholar of torts underestimates its flaws and the need for modification across a wide spectrum of areas. Our examination of the subject will provide us with the opportunity to examine proposals for reform. We should be guided, however, by an accurate picture ofthe current state of the torts court dockets and level of awards.

Reliable, independent studies demonstrate that the torts system is not in crisis. State court tort filings are down four percent since 1993 and comprise only about ten percent of all civil filings. Automobile negligence cases comprise about 60 percent of tort claims and have fallen 14 percent since 1996. Medical malpractice claims account for about eight percent, and product liability claims for two percent, respectively, of all state tort filings. Jury trials are rare, occur ring in only three percent of all tort case dispositions. More than 75 percent of tort cases are resolved by settlement or dismissal. Overall, the plaintiff success rate is only 49 percent in jury trials.

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