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The Fourth Annual DRI National Poll on the Civil Justice System

Poll Highlights

Public Experience with the Civil Justice System

  • Twenty percent of adults – equivalent to nearly 50 million Americans – say they personally have been involved in a civil lawsuit, chiefly as a plaintiff (43 percent) or defendant (32 percent).
  • Having participated in a civil case rises with age, and, not surprisingly, it peaks among people who are divorced, at 46 percent.
  • Experiences are mixed: Among those who’ve been involved in a civil case, half describe the experience as a positive one overall, half as a negative one. Though the sample sizes are small, the data indicate that plaintiffs are far more likely than defendants to report a positive experience.

Retaliation Against the Courts by the State Legislature or Governor

With the constitutional crisis between the judiciary and the legislature continuing in Kansas, but mindful of political pressures on the courts elsewhere, the public was asked about various forms of retaliation against the courts by the legislature or governor.

  • Budget reprisal is particularly unpopular: The public by 66-27 percent says it would be unjustified for governors or state legislatures to try to reduce court funding if they disagreed with a ruling.
  • Limiting court jurisdiction is seen as unjustified by 57-38 percent.
  • Removing judges in such cases is opposed by 54-40 percent.
  • Views that such steps are unjustified peak in three groups: college graduates, liberals and those with household incomes more than $100,000 a year.
  • Most importantly politically, registered voters across the board side with the courts by large majorities. Among registered voters, 68 percent oppose any attempt to reduce court funding by state legislatures because of unhappiness with a court decision. And that opposition is bipartisan: 71 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of Republicans, and 69 percent of Independents oppose such actions.

Influence on the Courts

  • Here, an interesting division occurs among the respondents. Only 15 percent feel that the legislature or the governor has too little influence on the courts. A much larger percentage (40%) feels that public opinion has too little influence on the courts, certainly still a minority, albeit a much larger one.
  • Hispanics, by the largest percentage by far among the demographic groups surveyed, feel that public opinion has too little influence on the courts, a whopping 56%.

Third Party Funding

  • Opposition to investor-funded lawsuits is broadly based, 68-28 percent, commanding majorities across all demographic groups.
  • Support for such funding draws 45 percent of young adults, dropping to just 18 percent of seniors.
  • Registered voters are particularly opposed to investor funding, with opposition 20 points higher than among those who are not registered.

Manditory Arbitration

  • Even if customers agree in advance to arbitration, Americans by 56-38 percent say they should be able to file a lawsuit anyway in the event of a dispute.
  • Support for the right to sue despite an arbitration agreement peaks among Hispanics and blacks, at nearly seven in 10, as well as among Democrats, less-educated and lower-income adults.

Class Action

  • In determining the size of a class-action award, Americans by 59-36 percent say damages should be based on the number of individuals who might have bought a defective product, rather than on the purchasers who have been identified at the time of the ruling.
  • This includes majorities across groups, for example, 64 percent of liberals, but also 55 percent of conservatives.