Civil lawsuits are on the decline in Pennsylvania as plaintiffs avoid county courthouses in favor of private mediators, reports the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Plaintiffs’ lawyers know that going before a jury is a crapshoot,” said retired Allegheny County Judge Eugene Scanlon, who runs a private mediation business. “It’s better to settle out of court than risk the jury rendering an inadequate amount.” Court records show that 16,062 civil cases, not including divorces, were filed in Allegheny County in 2010, a 24 percent decrease from 2007. During the past decade, the number of civil jury trials dropped 66 percent, from 276 in 2000 to 94 in 2009.
Attorneys and mediators say a large factor is the cost of litigation. Expert witnesses for civil cases commonly charge $500 to $700 an hour, and premium work can cost thousands of dollars per hour, attorneys say. Most plaintiffs’ attorneys don’t receive money unless the person gets a payout. “Lawyers are being more careful and selective in what they file,” civil attorney John Gismondi said. “There’s also been more emphasis on settling claims.” Mediation is a form of settlement discussion. A professional tries to get the sides to come to agreement. If one party doesn’t agree, court remains an option.