Plaintiphobia in State Courts? An Empirical Study of State Court Trials on Appeal
31 Pages Posted: 19 Feb 2008 Last revised: 28 Apr 2008
Date Written: Sept. 2007
Two findings dominate prior empirical studies of federal civil appeals. First, appeals courts are more likely to disrupt jury verdicts than bench decisions. Second, trial court defendants fare better than plaintiffs on appeal. But federal cases are limited by subject matter and comprise a small fraction of the nation's civil litigation activity. This study, which exploits a uniquely comprehensive database of state court trials and civil appeals, presents the first statistical models of the appeals process for a comprehensive set of state court civil trials. Using data from 46 large counties consisting of 8,038 trials and 549 concluded appeals, we find that state court appellate reversal rates for jury trials and appeals by defendants exceed the reversal rates for bench trials and appeals by plaintiffs. The reversal rate for trials appealed by plaintiffs is 21.5% compared to 41.5% for trial outcomes appealed by defendants. The reversal rate for jury trials is 33.7% compared to 27.5% for judge trials. Both descriptive analyses as well as more formal selection models point to appellate judges' attitudes toward trial-level adjudicators as an important explanation for these asymmetric outcomes of civil appeals in state courts. Our results are generally consistent with prior research on federal court appeals but also suggest a higher reversal rate of trial outcomes in state court compared to federal court.
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