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29,000 CIVIL CASES AND COUNTING…OR MAYBE NOT COUNTING BUT INSTEAD STAYING THE SAME

On the website of the Massachusetts Courts is a wealth of information. The statistics that I looked at recently were those that pertain to the number of cases that are active in the courts. Since my practice is primarily focused in the Superior Courts where the assessed value of cases is $25,000 or more and since I do only civil cases, I looked at those numbers very carefully.

According to the tables that are available, we see that there are about 29,000 active cases in the Massachusetts Superior Courts. This is statewide. It is interesting because an almost equal number of cases are disposed of as are filed in a given year. Where the statistics for the most recent time are available, those from 2015, we see approximately 20,000 cases were disposed and approximately 20,000 cases were brought. (As you will see when the actual statistics are presented below, this is only roughly true for 2015. However, in prior years, the numbers of filed cases as compared to disposed cases were shockingly similar.) Thus, at the end of the year we are seeing consistently about 29,000 civil cases.

Now something of great interest to lawyers is the number of cases that were tried to a jury. Of course, this means the number of cases that did not settle prior to a jury rendering a verdict. Care to guess? Those cases totaled only 271 in 2015. Yes, there were only 271 jury trials in Superior Court for civil cases out of a total caseload of 29,000. You may ask why do I speak of trials so often in my blogs? Well, even though the percentage of cases that are tried is less than 1%, a case will be assessed by how well it will “play” before a jury. I have said repeatedly that cases are always being looked at from the long view- how will the person appear in front of a jury, how will the case sound to a jury, what is the defense, how credible is the defendant or key witnesses. Yes, even with a very small number of tried cases, we still need to look at those things even though only 271 cases have gone “the distance” in the most recent year that statistics were available.

The District courts, the lower courts, have 79,000 pending civil cases. Interestingly, that figure has dropped markedly and steadily over the last 5 years, down from 123,000 five years ago to a drop of almost 50,000. I do not know why that is and I look forward to explanations. Currently, the data offer no explanation for that phenomenon.

These are things please to bear in mind when you are assessing a likelihood of a jury trial, the speed in which you can expect resolution of your case, and whether there is in fact backlog in the courts. I will argue that there is no real backlog of cases at least in terms of the Superior Court and in terms of civil cases. In a subsequent blog, we will examine the duration of a case: that is, from filing in the court to conclusion. On the whole, those figures are encouraging.

Below is a synopsis of the relevant statistics from the Massachusetts Courts:

  • In the District and Municipal Courts: filings are down from 123,447 in 2011 to 79,993 in 2015.
  • In the Superior Courts civil cases: 28,994 are active, pending cases.
  • Of those active, pending cases in the Superior Courts: 22,230 were entered in 2015.
  • Of the 19,789 cases that were disposed in 2015,271 were tried to a jury verdict.

I always find that clients, like doctors’ patients, do better when informed. It can create anxiety but on the whole the picture will give you an idea of what to expect. While progress has been made in the courts regarding the reducing of a backlog of cases, more can be done. In subsequent blogs, I will discuss what, if anything, your lawyer can do to resolve your case in a timely fashion having in mind that you want and deserve full value for your personal injury case.

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