News Story

Study Says Tort Costs Killing Business in Michigan

The lawyer profession is often the butt of many jokes. But now there is a public policy research think tank that says the profession could be driving business away from Michigan.

The Pacific Research Institute of San Francisco ranked Michigan 43rd in the nation in terms of "tort cost" after an analytical look at things such as number of cases filed, personal-injury lawyers, damage awards and settlement losses.

Lawrence J. McQuillan, one of the authors of the study, said people generally flee states with oppressive tort climates, and businesses are likely to look elsewhere to do business.

Alaska had the best score in the country and was followed by Hawaii (No. 2) and North Carolina (No. 3). Michigan ranked 43rd. New York was 49th and New Jersey was 50th.

Michigan was 28th in the study in 2008, meaning the state's not improving its legal climate.

"That (high ranking) is really going to discourage manufacturers who want to do business in the state," said McQuillan, director of Business and Economic Studies at Pacific Research Institute.

One of the reasons for Michigan's high rating was the amount of attorneys per dollar of state output. Michigan ranked 42nd in that regard, according to the Pacific Research Institute. There are an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 attorneys in this state.

"You have a lot of attorneys in this state looking for business," McQuillan said.

One legal analyst said tort costs could chase away business from the state.

"One of the reasons Michigan fares so poorly is that there are so many lawyers filing lawsuits," said Bob Dorigo Jones, president of the legal reform group Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch. "It is the constant threat of lawsuits and the constant threat of being forced into a settlement that drives businesses both small and large crazy in Michigan. ... In the amount of money being spent on verdicts and settlements, we are a bad state to do business."

Ironically, McQuillan said, Michigan has a pretty good set of procedures to limit tort costs. The study ranks Michigan as 6th best in that regard, which considers things like courthouses, judges, juries, law libraries and tort rules and procedures on the books.

McQuillan said that could happen because judges and juries are not implementing the existing rules on the books or because new problems have emerged that are not addressed by the current rules.

He said an example would be class-action lawsuits, where McQuillan said Michigan had no reforms.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.