Thursday, May 18, 2023

Russell on Streetcars and the Subsidy Thesis

Thomas D. Russell, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, has posted Blood on the Tracks, which appears in the Seattle University Law Review:

Scene at Capitol Fire, 1911 (NYPL)
Streetcars were the greatest American tortfeasors of the early 20th century, injuring approximately one in 331 urban Americans in 1907. This empirical study presents never-before-assembled data concerning litigation involving streetcar companies in California during the early twentieth century.

This article demonstrates the methodological folly of relying upon appellate cases to describe the world of trial-court litigation. Few cases went to trial. Plaintiffs lost about half their lawsuits. When plaintiffs did win, they won very little money. Regarding the bite taken out of the street railway company, the Superior Court was a flea.

Professor Gary Schwartz and Judge Richard Posner have presented inaccurate empirical data concerning early twentieth-century personal injury litigation. Professor Gary Schwartz was wrong to characterize tort law as generous. Likewise, Judge Richard Posner has been wrong to call tort law efficient. Like Professors Lawrence M. Friedman and Morton Horwitz, I see the amount taken from the street railway companies as quite small. However, I see no deliberate efforts to subsidize the industry.

--Dan Ernst