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How Has COVID Impacted Civil Lawsuit Filings?

by James Chapman

COVID-19 resulted in a dramatic drop in new case filings in the United States in 2020, according to statistics released in January by the Court Statistics Project. As courts across the country shut down and had to figure out how to do business in a virtual world, total filings dropped from 2019 by 28%:

All charts courtesy of the Court Statistics Project from the National Center for State Courts and the Conference of State Court Administrators.

These totals are for all types of lawsuits, including criminal, civil, and domestic. While annual filings been fairly level at almost 85 million new cases each year over the prior 5 years, with just 60 million filings in 2020, the impact of COVID-19 is obvious.

Drilling down into the civil filings data shows reversal of an upward trend, with a 26% drop-off from 2019 to 2020:

Not all states provided data for the past five years. However, civil filing data from 45 reporting states in 2020 shows nearly 11.7 million civil lawsuits were filed that year, compared to 15.7 million filed in 2019:

2020 Civil Case Filings Reported

11,691,818 Incoming Cases from 45 States

2019 Civil Case Filings Reported

15,776,831 Incoming Cases from 44 States

Jury Trials

What about the civil cases tried to a jury? While less than half the states report the number of jury trials each year, the plunge in 2020 from 2019 was a whopping 73% according to the Court Statistics Project:

2020 Jury Trials Reported

4,726 Jury Trials from 20 States

2019 Jury Trials Reported

17,790 Jury Trials from 20 States

While 45 states report their annual civil case filings, only 35 states report tort statistics and only 20 report jury trials.

To better understand the reported numbers for civil cases filed in 2020 that could result in a jury trial, ClaimEdge created a chart of total civil claim filings reported in state courts of general jurisdiction, with specific breakouts of those 35 states that reported tort case filings:

An interactive version of the Tableau public web app is available here.

Blue dots identify each state that reports tort filings as a subset of civil. As can be seen, Texas was the only state with a large population to break out tort filings. Other states with large populations such as California, Florida, Illinois, and New York would add substantially to the total if they reported tort case filings.

It is anyone’s guess how soon civil filings will return to pre-pandemic levels. Still, millions of new civil cases being filed during COVID are keeping a lot of lawyers and judges busy, even if the cases are not going to trial.

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