Last week, we kicked off our new series of posts taking a deep dive on various key areas of the law, asking several important questions about the kinds of cases the Court takes, who wins them the most often, and the Justices’ voting records. This week, we’re looking at the Court’s record with tort law.
First, we review the number of tort cases the Court decided, year by year, for the years 1990 to 1999. The Court decided twenty tort cases in 1990, sixteen in 1991, twenty-eight in 1992, twelve in 1993, fifteen in 1994, twenty-one in 1995, fifteen in 1996, seventeen in 1997 and 1998 and thirteen in 1999.
Next, we review the data for which side won the Court’s cases at the Appellate Court – were the cases coming to the Court as plaintiffs’ wins or defendants’ wins? For the years 1990 to 1999, the Court’s tort cases were overwhelmingly plaintiffs’ wins – 115 plaintiffs’ wins and only 59 defendants’ wins. For example, in 1991, plaintiffs’ wins below outnumbered defendants’ wins 12-4. The following year, plaintiffs’ wins outnumbered defendants’ wins 19-9. In 1996, the Court decided 12 plaintiffs’ wins and 3 defendants’ wins. In 1998, the Court decided thirteen plaintiffs’ wins and four defendants’ wins. In 1999, the split was ten plaintiffs’ wins to three defendants’ wins.
Next, we review how often defendants who won at the Appellate Court won at the Supreme Court. Between 1990 and 1999, defendants’ won-loss record in such cases was slightly below .500 – 29 wins, 30 losses.
But plaintiffs found it much harder during the 1990s to defend their wins, going 45-70 in cases before the Supreme Court in cases they had won below. 1995 and 1996 were particularly rough years, as plaintiffs fresh off Appellate Court wins went 4-23 at the Supreme Court.
In the next table, we combine the data to derive defendants’ total wins in tort cases for the decade – in other words, defense wins from the Appellate Court successfully defended plus plaintiffs’ wins from the Appellate Court overturned at the Supreme Court. Defendants hovered around .500 for the first half of the nineties, going 40-42 between 1990 and 1994. But things turned around from 1995 to 1999, as winning defendants went 58-25 at the Supreme Court, for an overall won-lost record of 98-67.
Next, we look at the primary issues involved in the Court’s tort cases, dividing the issues into duty, liability, procedural and “other.” During the nineties, the Court spread its tort work around the docket fairly well, deciding 54 tort cases primarily about duty issues and 56 in our “other” category. There were 34 cases presenting liability issues and 30 involving procedural questions.
In the next table, we show for each Justice the number of votes he or she cast for defendants in tort cases. For the decade, the Justices most often supporting defendants in tort cases were Justice Miller (102 votes), Justice Heiple (88), and Justices Freeman and Bilandic (79 votes and 78 votes, respectively).
And below, we report the total votes each Justice cast for tort plaintiffs during the nineties. Leaders in this group were Justice Freeman (76 votes), Justice Miller (70 votes), Justice Bilandic (66 votes), Justice Harrison (60 votes) and Justice Heiple (59 votes).
Finally, we look at the Court’s total number of tort cases for the years 2000 through 2009. As Table 1081 shows, the Court’s tort docket was somewhat down during these years. Where the total cases weren’t in double digits any year of the nineties, they were every other year throughout this second period. The Court decided ten tort cases in 2000, nine in 2001, seventeen in 2002, nine in 2003, thirteen in 2004, six in 2005, twelve in 2006, seven in 2007, fourteen in 2008 and eight in 2009.
Join us back here tomorrow as we take another step in our analysis of the Court’s handling of torts.