Personal Injury Filings Decline Again in Tennessee

New data out from the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts puts data behind what those of us who practice tort law knew:  tort filings are down in Tennessee. 

The AOC’s Annual Statistical Report shows that tort filings for the one year period ending June 30, 2011 were 10,576.  Ten years ago, in the one year period ending June 30, 2002, there were  12,166 tort cases filed in the state.    

Total tort case filings in the six counties with the largest population were as follows: 

County                    2010-11            2001-02

Shelby                        1886                 1567

Davidson                   1471                 1605

Knox                          998                   1425

Hamilton                    667                    927

Montgomery              253                    265

Rutherford                479                    355 

I have several thoughts about these numbers.  First, all of these numbers make sense to me except the Shelby County numbers.  I cannot understand why Shelby County numbers are up, except that perhaps insurance companies are less willing to settle cases there because they know that if a case is filed it will get bogged down in the court system there.  Another explanation is that more people there are trying to settle cases on their own and going to lawyers too late to get the case settled before the one year statute of limitations.  My guess is that Rutherford County filings are up because of the extreme increase in population there in the last 10 years.

Second, these numbers reveal the economic pressure on the insurance defense bar and why it seems that they in turn have increased the heat on the plaintiff’s bar in cases that are filed.  A decrease in filings means that the defense bar has fewer cases to work on and thus, to keep the same revenue, must either increase rates or work cases harder.  Rate increases are few and far between given the competition for this type of work, and thus the cases that are filed get worked harder. 

Third, it is important to remember that the population of Tennessee has increased substantially in the last ten years – up over 11%.  That increase in population means more cars on the road, more doctor and hospital visits, etc. – all of which would ordinarily  mean an increased number of incidents giving rise to tort claims. 

So what is going on?  Lots of things.  Car are safer, which means fewer and reduced injuries and deaths even though there are more miles traveled.  Medical costs have increased substantially, which means that in clear-cut cases where people are injured or killed low policy limits are more likely to exhausted and, sooner or later, offered before suit must be filed.  Medical malpractice claims are down because of the cost of bringing the claims and complying with certificate of good faith requirements.  And more. 

What cannot be denied is this:  tort filings are down, even before the massive tort reform bill took effect on October 1, 2011.  The new legislation, and the legislation that I think will be passed during this legislative session, will put even more downward pressure on these numbers.