Subscribe to our Blog

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?

Sebastian County jury tells State Farm safety rules matter

Don and Taylor spent the week of December 1-4, 2015 in Fort Smith trying a motor vehicle collision case. It was a classic example of an insurance company hiding behind their insured. The wreck happened after our client dropped her son off at a Boys and Girls Club in Fort Smith.

blog post pic 1.png

She was headed home with her daughter when another vehicle hit them in the middle of their van on the passenger’s side. An elderly State Farm insured did not look to his left before pulling out of the parking lot of a barber shop. The elderly State Farm insured admitted to violating the safety rule to pay attention.

The collision threw our client toward the point of impact. Her torso got caught in the seat belt. This caused an aggravation of a pre-existing back condition that had given her no pain in over a decade.

Our client reported back pain to the police officer who responded to the scene. Our client's pain intensified overnight and she went to the ER the next day. The ER found degenerative changes in her back; told her she would probably be a little stiff; prescribed anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxers; and told her she would probably be fine in a few weeks. Our client took the medication. A few weeks passed. Her pain returned and worsened. She also starting having mild incontinence.

Seven months before the wreck she had seen a chiropractic physician for mild neck pain. So she went back to him three months after the wreck. Her chiropractic physician sent her to the ER on her very first visit. The same degenerative changes were found at the ER as three months beforehand. The most noticeable of these changes were at the same level our client had an old work injury in 1995. Her incontinence problems worsened. She began seeing her family doctor. This resulted in a referral chain to a neurosurgeon; a pain management specialist; a urologist; and a gastroenterologist. Our client also had neck injuries from the wreck. These injuries resulted in a 23% whole person impairment rating.

Before the wreck our client was a hard-working mother of seven adopted children. She took pride in being a big woman. She also coached her children's sports teams; drove and maintained a school bus; enjoyed being a substitute teacher; took occasional family vacations to Ohio and other locations; enjoyed attending her children's sporting events; and kept an orderly home while cooking and cleaning everyday for her family. After the wreck, she began having "accidents" in public. These "accidents" were caused by her incontinence problems. They not only embarrassed her, but also her children and anyone else with her at the time they happened. She learned to avoid "accidents" by not eating. As a result, she lost a significant amount of weight. This negatively affected her self-esteem. A nerve stretch injury was diagnosed in her low back as a result of the wreck. This kept her from being able to sit or stand for long periods of time. The nerve stretch injury eliminated her ability to watch her children's sporting events the way she could before the wreck.

It forced her to quit coaching. It stopped her from adopting a sibling of her other children. It forced others to pick up the physical tasks required of a mother and wife. Our client's dream was to become a full-time teacher of at-risk junior high children. She went back to school after the wreck to become certified. However, her injuries from the wreck forced her to give up this dream. Her only way of being gainfully employed after the wreck was to have an understanding supervisor. She worked several jobs where her supervisor allowed her to take unscheduled breaks as a result of "accidents."

Our client incurred a little under $40,000 in medical expenses when the trial began. She sustained injuries in the wreck that will be with her for as long as she lives. The most State Farm offered was $11,500 despite their elderly insured having only $25,000 in coverage. This is the minimum amount required by state law. State Farm's low ball offer left our client with no choice but to try her case to a jury of her peers. State Farm relied on the jury to give their elderly insured a pass. They counted on the jury to disregard the traffic safety rules that keep us all safe from danger.

Instead, the jury enforced the safety rules. They returned a verdict of $84,500. Clearly, the jury cared much more about the safety of their community than State Farm. The jury cared about a safety rule violation leading to a teacher who could no longer help kids nobody else wanted. The jury cared about a wife who could not help her husband make ends meet as she did before the wreck. They cared about a mom who is less of a mother to her children. They cared about a member of the community who is embarrassed about the person she has become. They cared about protecting the life of one of their own.

What does State Farm care about? They tried to hide behind their insured and get away with it. They also helped sponsor tort-reform legislation during the regular session of the 90th General Assembly in 2015. This legislation would have required injured Arkansans to receive no benefit for the premium dollars paid to their own automobile insurance companies. State Farm cares much more about their own profits than taking care of the people of Arkansas. Does that sound "like a good neighbor"?




Several anti-consumer bills introduced at the Arkansas Legislature

Yesterday was the bill-filing deadline for the Arkansas Legislature. Several anti-citizen bills were introduced. These bills are designed to increase profits for insurance companies and other major corporations at the public's expense. Please reach out to your legislators and oppose anti-consumer bills.

For example, under current Arkansas law, an injured person must be "made whole" by settlement or jury verdict before that person's health, worker's comp, or car insurance company has the right to recover any money from the at-fault party (or his or her insurance company). The reason for this law is this — as between the customer and the insurance company, the insurance company was paid to assume the risk of injury to its customer. This "made whole" doctrine is an issue of fundamental fairness because it helps Arkansans play on a more level field with insurance companies, who already get to hide behind their insureds and rarely get called to account for other bad faith tactics.

HB1907 would repeal this "made whole" doctrine, which would result in a windfall to insurance companies at the expense of Arkansas citizens. Several federal laws are already like this, and many Arkansans already receive nothing — zero — when injured because their federal insurance program gets paid first. The federal law is good for major corporations but bad for consumers, and HB1907 is a bad bill modeled on a bad federal law.

Please call your representatives and senators and tell them you oppose "tort reform" in any form or fashion. Conservative financial magazine Forbes recently declared that tort reform didn't reduce defensive medicine, but rather resulted in record profits for insurers. Forbes also noted tort reform had the unintended consequence of slowing down new patient safety initiatives to correct the 44,000-98,000 needless deaths that occur each year in hospitals. A list of legislators is on the Legislature's website here, and UALR has a district finder here if you need to identify your own legislators. 

Remind your legislators that the U.S. Constitution's 7th Amendment preserves the right of juries to make decisions about disputes between citizens exceeding $20. Under the Arkansas Constitution, this requires full compensation for any wrongs. Juries are the ultimate check on the power of government — they represent constitutionally-established local control of our own communities. Let's keep the power in the hands of the people, and out of the hands of the insurance companies.

Remember this: if legislators can take away your 7th Amendment right to a full and just award by a jury because an insurance company wants them to, they can take away your 1st and 2nd Amendment rights to free exercise of religion and to bear arms as well.

The importance of the civil justice system

In a recent episode, CNN's Michael Smerconish discusses the importance of the civil justice system. He observes that sometimes government oversight doesn't work correctly, or even at all. In those situations, our civil justice system is what keeps our communities safe. That is, civil lawyers identify problems with products, then file lawsuits bringing those problems to light and forcing companies to correct them.

See for yourself — watch Smerconish talk about the GM ignition switch scandal below:

Arkansas' non-partisan elections taking partisan, anti-citizen turn


We previously reported on the influence of money in supposedly non-partisan judicial elections here. That post focused on a discovery by investigators that State Farm had lied about the amount of funds it contributed to a judicial election in Illinois. State Farm contributed millions of dollars to a judicial candidate that just so happened to cast the deciding vote overturning a $1 billion verdict against the insurance company for secretly using aftermarket parts to repair vehicles.

Turn now to Arkansas. The Arkansas Chamber of Commerce, an arm of the U.S. Chamber that believes "injured people should have limited ability to sue corporations for damages in the court," is getting involved in two appeals court races in Arkansas. Other partisan money (on both sides, mind you) appears to be pouring in. The retired executive director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission explains in detail why this is a bad idea.

We've also got a page that explains why monkeying with the right to a jury trial — guaranteed by the 7th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by Article 2, § 7 of the Arkansas Constitution — is a bad idea for citizens.  Our current jury system in Arkansas is about local control. Local citizens serve on juries and make decisions about disputes between, most often, their fellow citizens and huge corporations. In many cases, however, corporations already hold an advantage because current rules permit them to hide their involvement.

The courts are the only place where citizens can stand as equals to major corporations. The legal reform sought by the U.S. and Arkansas Chambers of Commerce would further tip the balance of power by limiting the power of our citizens to access the court system. For this reason, we should be suspect of judicial candidates who take action showing they want money from lobbyists, because it's reasonable to believe they'll return the favor by limiting the right to a jury trial.