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National civil justice survey, NCJS, Civil justice issues, Civil justice data, Empirical legal studies


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Family Law | Litigation | Property Law and Real Estate | Torts


Civil justice issues play a prominent role in society. Family law issues such as divorce and child custody, consumer victimization issues raised by questionable trade practices, and tort issues raised by surprisingly high estimated rates of medical malpractice, questionable prescription drug practices, and other behaviors are part of the fabric of daily life. Policymakers and interest groups regularly debate and assess whether civil problems are best resolved by legislative action, agency action, litigation, alternative dispute resolution, other methods, or some combination of actions. Yet we lack systematic quantitative knowledge about the primary events in daily life that generate civil justice issues. This paper explores the desirability of, and issues related to, creating what I refer to as a national civil justice survey ("NCJS"), analogous to the National Crime Victimization Survey ("NCVS").

The NCVS is the primary source of information on criminal victimization. The survey enables the Bureau of Justice Statistics ("BJS") to estimate the likelihood of many crimes "for the population as a whole as well as for segments of the population such as women, the elderly, members of various racial groups, city dwellers, or other groups." In 2005, U.S. residents age twelve or older experienced about 20 violent crimes per 1,000 people and about 150 property crimes per 1,000 people. In comparison, decades-old national research on incidence of civil problems suggests that adults experience a long-term risk of serious personal injury at the rate of 120 per 1,000 and a risk of serious property damage of 400 per 1,000. A more geographically limited early 1980s survey found that a three-year risk of having a civil justice grievance was 416 per 1,000. The rate of civil justice incidents plainly is high enough to warrant systematic quantitative knowledge of their patterns.

Part I of this Article briefly reviews selected available civil justice data and their limitations. Part II provides a preliminary discussion of the kind of information about civil justice events that might be gathered in a NCJS. Part III reviews methodologies and results in prior civil justice surveys. Part IV briefly suggests the benefits and feasibility of a NCJS.

Publication Citation

Theodore Eisenberg, "The Need for a National Civil Justice Survey of Incidence and Claiming Behavior", 37 Fordham Urban Law Journal (2010)