The U.S. Department of Justice recently revised its 2005 Civil Justice Survey of State Courts. This stuff is fascinating–it is a chance to see the overall work our state courts are doing. As lawyers, we become myopic and only pay attention to our caseload and, perhaps, our practice niche. Statistics like these allow us to see how our cases are part of the bigger picture.
Unfortunately, there’s not a lot on pharmaceutical or medical device cases. Those are lumped into the non-asbestos product liability category, about 265 trials in 2005, representing only 1% of the total state court trials. It is interesting to note that, of those 265, the plaintiffs won at trial in 19.6% (this is much higher if you factor in asbestos cases). The median award in non-asbestos product cases is $500,000, with 36.5% of plaintiffs in those cases being awarded over $1 million.
Specific to the drug arena, though, the Survey does address class-action lawsuits. There were 14 class-action certified trials in 2005, and nine of these were product cases: 3 were asbestos, five were drug cases, and one was a defective automobile part. Plaintiffs won in ten of the 14 cases, with a median award of $1 million.
Keep in mind, those cases that go to trial are those outliers where there is a significant debate as to liability or damages. Most cases settle before trial—those statistics, though probably not available, would give us a better idea of the number of truly meritorious claims brought every year.