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Which Arkansas counties are the most litigious?

I've posted before about the upcoming launch of Docket Dog, a case watching service for Arkansas state court cases. To me, one of the interesting things coming out of Docket Dog is the ability to look at different metrics for case filings in Arkansas.

I have been learning the Python programming language, which has some good visualization tools available for it. My latest exploration has been using Python to create state maps. I found this awesome tutorial by a guy with an equally-awesome name (Nathan, of course!). I also wanted to view metrics per capita, so I downloaded the latest US Census data.

I wanted to figure out which Arkansas counties were the most sue-happy. So, looked at the total number of cases filed in each county, divided by the population, and plotted the result. Each color band is a multiple of the average for that year.

2015 cases per capita. Click to enlarge.

2014 cases per capita. Click to enlarge.

2013 cases per capita. Click to enlarge.

2012 cases per capita. Click to enlarge.

2011 cases per capita. Click to enlarge.

2010 cases per capita. Click to enlarge.

What do you make of this? Clark County, my old stomping ground, is average from 2010 to 2012, but is well above that the last couple of years.

Why do you think certain counties are more litigious than others?

How long will my case take?

Nathan here. I'm back for a guest post with some new tricks I've learned at my new job from some of the researchers at UAMS. I've having a blast getting an inside look at cutting-edge biomedical research. This post looks at some data visualization about the time it takes to resolve civil tort cases in Arkansas.


One of the researchers has a master's degree in computer science, and I picked his brain a little bit about what software packages he likes to use. He prefers python to Perl (which I like) because python's research libraries are easier to use.

I took his recommendations to heart, and I've been tinkering around with the Anaconda python distribution with data I've gathered for another project I'm working on releasing very soon: Docket Dog. It's an Arkansas state court notification system. I used the data mining application Orange to perform some data visualization on the types of civil cases my dad and brother handle.

Arkansas Tort Case Length Analysis:

I took a look at over 98000 tort cases available electronically from the Administrative Office of the Courts for which I could calculate an end date. This is what the time frames look like:

Pendency of Arkansas tort cases in years. The scale is 20 years wide. Click to enlarge.

As you can see, civil court cases can take several years to resolve. We'll see what the averages look like here in a few minutes with another chart.

In the meantime, there are several interesting patterns that appear in this chart. For instance, on the first line for product liability cases, there are several vertical bands around 9, 12, and 14–16 years. I haven't looked into this, but I suspect each band probably represents a settlement of a specific type of cases, like Firestone exploding tire cases, Pinto exploding car cases, or something similar.

The declaratory judgment (dec action) line is notably shorter overall than the others. Again, I haven't researched this further, but I would expect this is due to the fact that dec actions don't involve juries and are usually about a specific question of law. For instance, lots of dec actions involve whether there is insurance coverage for a particular event or not (the hilarious Luther Sutter v. Dennis Milligan dec action notwithstanding). 

Now, on to the next chart. This is called a box chart:

Comparison of median Arkansas tort case values over the last 20 years. Click to enlarge.

This chart is broken up into quartiles. The light blue box represents 50% of all cases. So, 50% of motor vehicle collision (MVC) cases are decided within 2 years, with the median value being 1.6 years. (Median means the middle value; if there were 101 cases, for instance, the median value would be the 51st value). The average MVC case length is shorter at just over 1 year.

The dark blue lines represent maximum values, excluding outliers. The dots out to the right of the graph represent those outliers, which extend out to 20 years.

What's the bottom line? For 3/4 of tort cases, you can expect resolution to take at least 6 months to 3 years. Another quarter of cases take up to 4 years or so. And, there are always outliers that can take many, many years to reach ultimate resolution.

What questions do you have about this analysis?

Nathan selected as a 5-time Super Lawyer

Nathan was again selected as one of Super Lawyers' Rising Stars for 2015 for the fifth year running. Super Lawyers is a nationwide "rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.

Super Lawyers magazine features the list and profiles of selected attorneys and is distributed to attorneys in the state or region and the ABA-accredited law school libraries. Super Lawyers is also published as a special section in leading city and regional magazines across the country."

More likely than not, movies and TV mislead about the burden of proof in civil cases

Most people have seen courtroom dramas. Attorneys yell at each other. The judge cautions the attorneys. The witness fires back at the cross-examining attorney. Passionate arguments are made to the jury during closing arguments. The suspense builds as the jury renders its verdict.

Perhaps the most popular courtroom dramas on television are Law and Order and Crime Scene Investigation. But are these television shows and other movies an accurate depiction of what happens in real life? As with almost any question to an attorney, the answer to this question is “it depends.”

The most fundamental part of the answer is whether the case is a criminal or civil one. This is due to the different standards that apply in these types of cases. Because jurors are entitled to consider the evidence in light of their own observations and experiences in the affairs of life, which includes learning the law from television shows and movies, confusion frequently arises about which standard applies in civil cases.

If you have seen any courtroom TV drama, you may know that in a criminal case, the state must prove the defendant is guilty of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. However, civil cases are different. The plaintiff in a civil case must prove his or her case by what is known as “the preponderance of the evidence.” Every jury hearing a civil case in Arkansas will hear the following instruction from the trial judge:

A party who has the burden of proof on a proposition must establish it by a preponderance of the evidence, unless the proposition is so established by other proof in the case. “Preponderance of the evidence” means the greater weight of evidence. The greater weight of evidence is not necessarily established by the greater number of witnesses testifying to any fact or state of facts. It is the evidence which, when weighed with that opposed to it, has more convincing force and is more probably true and accurate. If, upon any issue in the case, the evidence appears to be equally balanced, or if you cannot say upon which side it weighs heavier, you must resolve that question against the party who has the burden of proving it.

In other words, the plaintiff must prove his or her version of the facts is more probably true and accurate than the defense’s version of events. Stated another way, the jury must have a 51% confidence factor to rule for the plaintiff. Perhaps the best analogy of this principle are the scales of justice seen at right:

If a plaintiff (represented by the scale on the left) tips the scale slightly more than the defendant (represented by the scale on the right), then the jury should find in favor of the plaintiff. However, if the scales are even, or if the scales tip slightly in favor of the defendant, then the jury should find in favor of the defendant.

Most courtroom dramas I have seen involve criminal cases. “The Judge” came out in 2014 starring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr., which provided a good example of the application of the beyond a reasonable doubt standard of proof in criminal cases. “Twelve Angry Men” stars Henry Fonda, and is an interesting perspective from the inside of a jury’s deliberation. “And Justice For All” starred Al Pacino at his finest, whereby he is forced into a dilemma of defending a judge guilty of a crime, and at the same time defending other innocent clients. Any John Grisham book made into a movie is a good choice. One of the few movies regarding civil cases is “The Rainmaker,” starring Matt Damon as a young attorney representing a plaintiff’s family in a bad faith case against an insurance company. Another movie providing an example of a civil case is called “A Civil Action,” starring John Travolta, who represents several families affected by contaminated groundwater in Woburn, Massachusetts.

So are these movies an accurate portrayal of a real life courtroom? You’ll have to watch to find out.  


The wrong way to pick a brand name

In looking back at the firm blog, it looks like I took a full summer vacation from writing here. Truth be told, I've got an interesting new project that's been keeping me busy. Stay tuned for exciting news next month...

Here in south Arkansas, we certainly appreciate a good fish fry or crawfish boil. We've all seen various Louisiana-based products on the shelves, from hot sauce to crawfish boil to fish fry. Here are a few examples:

The hot sauces shown above are all Louisiana-style hot sauces (primarily vinegar and red peppers). You can see from the labels that these producers draw attention to the association with Louisiana and New Orleans. 

Products that use a geographic location in their name (like Louisiana) are considered descriptiveDescriptive is a term of art in the trademark world. A descriptive term can't serve as a trademark unless consumers associate the term with a particular source for the product.

Enter the company that makes Louisiana Fish Fry Products. This company filed a trademark application for their name and logo that appears on their products. The U.S. Patent & Trademark Office rejected the application, finding that the words LOUISIANA FISH FRY PRODUCTS was either highly descriptive or outright generic for the types of products being sold by the company. The company appealed to the Trademark Trials & Appeal Board and lost, and then appealed to the federal appeals court responsible for handling (relatively rare) trademark application appeals. Both the TTAB and the federal court agreed with the examiner's finding that the term LOUISIANA FISH FRY PRODUCTS wasn't capable of signifying source.

The problem for the company is that it will be very difficult to stop imitators from using the company's brand name because it is so descriptive of Louisiana-style food products. A brand name you can't protect isn't much of a brand name.

So, what's the lesson to take away from the Louisiana fish fry case? You need to be careful in selecting the brand name for your products. You want to select a name that's capable of distinguishing your products or services in the marketplace. These types of names can either be arbitrary, like APPLE for computers, or suggestive, like NOBURST for winterization antifreeze. In my opinion, suggestive marks are the best of both worlds, because through imagination, thought, or perception, the consumer reaches a conclusion as to the nature of the goods or services being offered.

How do you come up with your product names?