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Fewer Suers

A short-circuited attempt at electricity deregulation has tarnished California's reputation as a trend-setting state. But there's one development that may restore its hopeful status: Californians are suing each other less often.

The number of major personal injury suits in the state is currently down by nearly 50 percent compared with a decade ago. Small-claims cases are also way down.

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Is the litigious society becoming less litigious, with California in the lead?

The picture isn't quite that simple, as a report in the Los Angeles Times makes clear. Some historians see cyclical ups and downs in lawsuits. Tort-reform advocates, for their part, are quick to point out that the average size of punitive damage awards is still growing. And it takes only a few really big ones to cement the public perception of runaway lawsuits.

Still, the downward trend is welcome. It suggests people with disputes may be finding less-contentious ways of settling them, perhaps through mediation or arbitration. Companies may be building safer products, too - especially vehicles.

Thanks, California, for having a rolling blackout on needless lawsuits.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society