Product Liability:

Extent of 'Litigation Explosion' in Federal Courts Questioned

HRD-88-36BR: Published: Jan 28, 1988. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 1988.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO analyzed the increase in product liability cases filed in federal courts since 1974, focusing on the: (1) particular types of cases that were increasing in number; and (2) growth pattern for products that were not the subject of a significant amount of litigation.

GAO found that, from 1974 through 1985: (1) total federal product liability filings increased 721 percent; (2) cases related to asbestos, an intrauterine birth-control device, and a morning-sickness drug accounted for 40 percent, 12 percent, and 5 percent, respectively, of the total growth in federal filings; and (3) filings unrelated to those three products increased 302 percent. GAO also found that, from 1976, the first year likely to include complete data on product filings, through 1986, the number of: (1) total filings increased 272 percent; (2) cases related to asbestos accounted for 60 percent of the growth; (3) cases related to the birth-control device and the morning-sickness drug combined to account for about 1 percent of the growth; and (4) cases unrelated to those three products increased 104 percent, with the largest annual increase occurring between 1979 and 1981. In addition, GAO found that: (1) while state court filings in Connecticut, Iowa, and Massachusetts matched federal court filings in the direction of change, they were dissimilar in terms of rate or extent of growth; (2) the percentage of cases filed in federal courts varied across states and by product type; and (3) there was an apparent trend to file in federal courts, rather than state courts.

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