Tort Lawsuits Hit Decade Low in 2022, But Surge Expected in 2023

Miami, Florida – The number of tort lawsuits filed in 2022 reached one of the lowest levels in the past decade, according to a recent report. However, the trend has already shifted, with an increase in tort cases recorded so far this year.

The 2023 Torts Litigation Report, released by Lex Machina, a division of LexisNexis, revealed that there were 14,375 tort lawsuits filed in federal courts last year. This figure represents a decline from the previous year’s 15,799 cases and is the lowest number in 10 years, apart from 2013 and 2016, when 12,069 and 13,786 tort cases were reported, respectively.

Karen Chadwick, torts legal data expert at Lex Machina and the editor of the report, attributed the decline to a “COVID hangover.” Limited access to courts and decreased personal interactions in the wake of the pandemic were key contributing factors.

Chadwick stated, “In 2022, we were still in that recovery period.” However, as of October 31 this year, Lex Machina has already tracked more than 16,000 tort cases, indicating a bounce back from the previous dip.

The tort cases recorded include those linked to significant incidents such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, C-8 water contamination at DuPont’s facility, the September 11 terrorist attacks, and environmental cases tied to a Doe Run lead smelter in Peru.

Excluding these mass tort cases, 14,254 tort lawsuits were filed in 2022, which is lower than the 15,690 cases reported in 2021 and the lowest since 2016.

The report defines tort cases as those in which a party seeks compensation for loss or harm caused by personal injury or reputational harm. This includes actions brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, as well as medical malpractice lawsuits, motor vehicle accidents, and premises liability cases. However, product liability cases, such as those involving Johnson & Johnson’s talcum powder or Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, are excluded.

From 2020 to 2022, the U.S. government emerged as the top defendant in tort cases, also facing motor vehicle accidents involving postal workers and medical malpractice claims against Veterans Affairs. Among private companies, Walmart faced numerous premises liability cases and experienced significant legal losses, including a $5 million slip-and-fall verdict in Pennsylvania and a nearly $2 million jury award in Florida.

The top plaintiff’s firm during this period was Morgan & Morgan, with 1,124 cases filed, while Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, with 1,214 lawsuits, represented the top defense firm after the U.S. Department of Justice.

Two individual plaintiffs lawyers, Korey Arthur Nelson and J. Russell B. Pate, emerged as key figures during this time, handling a considerable number of cases involving asbestos exposure at a Hess Corp. oil refinery in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The top venues for tort lawsuits from 2020 to 2022 were the Southern District of Texas, the District of New Jersey, and the Southern District of Florida.

The 2023 Torts Litigation Report did not analyze tort lawsuits tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, as those cases began decreasing in 2021. Chadwick emphasized that COVID-19 cases have already peaked and are no longer a significant focus.

In conclusion, the 2023 Torts Litigation Report highlights the decline in tort lawsuits filed in 2022, primarily attributed to the lingering impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the trend has reversed as this year has seen a significant increase in tort cases. These lawsuits cover various issues, including mass torts and claims against both public and private entities. The report provides valuable insights into the changing landscape of tort litigation in recent years.