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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?

Fox News Dallas: Tort reformers promised a strong medical board, failed to deliver

Calling Fox News conservative is like calling the Atlantic a pond. Same for Dallas. But Texas is so anti-consumer that even Fox News in Dallas has reported on how tort reform doesn't work for ordinary Texans. In a followup news article, Fox News in Dallas aired a report on the Texas Medical Board. Texas legislators promised in 2003 when passing tort reform that the Texas Medical Board would beef up enforcement on bad doctors to make up for the caps on damages against those doctors. The report concluded that this didn't happen, and the Texas Medical Board's "delays, secrecy and leniency ends up costing patients and leaves a trail of devastation."

The report focused on three ordinary Texas families who were injured by doctors. In one case, the doctor had previously been "disciplined and ordered to pay $25,000 for prescribing controlled substances and dangerous drugs over the Internet." However, this doctor was permitted  to keep practicing, even though he didn't carry malpractice insurance, and he butchered two women during cosmetic procedures. One was left permanently disabled. The bad doctor's punishment? A temporary ban on performing those types of procedures. He is free to keep practicing medicine, and will be permitted to perform cosmetic operations in the future. How is this "keeping a tight rein on doctors"?

Other conclusions of the report include:

  • the Texas Medical Board conducts its reviews in secret, and even affected patients don't get to hear the doctor's side of the story;
  • since tort reform was enacted in 2003, complaints to the medical board have nearly doubled, but the Texas Medical Board only investigates 25% of the claims;
  • neither of the injured women in the story had health insurance, so the treatment they received after being injured by bad doctors was paid for by the taxpayers.

By and large, most doctors are good doctors. The rule of thumb is that 5% of doctors account for 50% of malpractice claims. Unfortunately, after tort reform was enacted, Texas legislators have fallen short on their promise to beef up enforcement against bad doctors. My Texas lawyer friends tell me that since there are limits on malpractice cases, they cannot invest the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to take malpractice cases to trial. The patient loses.

In Arkansas, we don't have caps on damages. However, we expect this to be a fight in the Arkansas legislature in the upcoming session. Please write or call your local legislators and tell them you oppose tort reform, because it lets bad doctors off the hook! If they want proof, send them this link.

Fox News in Dallas reports that tort reform isn't working for Texans

Last week, the Fox News station in Dallas ran a lengthy segment on how tort reform in Texas is affecting ordinary Texas citizens. The clip provides hard data that debunks many of the myths of tort reform, including:

  • Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured residents of any state in the country;
  • Texas citizens pay more in healthcare premiums than the average American, so any alleged savings of tort reform haven't been passed on to consumers;
  • The number of new doctors in Texas as a percentage of population actually lags behind the rest of the country;
  • Texans who can't afford healthcare for disabled children rely on Medicaid, which is funded by taxpayers; and
  • Texans whose family members are injured or killed by incompentent doctors and nurses have nowhere to turn.

What the clip for yourself here.

Tort reform is bad for ordinary citizens who pay taxes, buy health insurance, and want to receive competent medical treatment. It is good for insurance companies, lobbyists, and other special interest groups who make money by shifting financial burdens to the government, instead of the parties responsible for causing financial harm to innocent people. Whose side do you want to be on?

Little progress made in ensuring patient safety

A decade after the National Institute of Medicine's landmark study on patient injury resulting from medical treatment, little progess has been made, according to a recent report in the New England Journal of Medicine. The article reports that "[d]espite enhanced attention on patient safety following the 1999  Institute of Medicine report on medical errors, 'the penetration of  evidence-based safety practices has been quite modest.'" One evidence-based safety practice is the use of electronic medical records, but just 1.5% of hospitals have adopted new electronic recordkeeping technology.

The most frightening aspect of this report is, perhaps, the conclusion that 63% of the patient injuries were preventable. We would be interested to know how hospitals treated those preventable patient injuries — that is, did the hospitals do right by their patients and fix what they could, help what couldn't be fixed, and make up for what couldn't be helped?

Hospitals' treatment mistakes affect 1 in 7

A new study by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services shows that 1 in 7 Medicare patients are harmed by treatment mistakes. The report estimates that these types of mistakes contribute to 180,000 deaths every year. What other type of business can get away with making serious mistakes with 1 out of every 7 customers?