Coronavirus Effect? Tort Filings Are Down In 2020, but Products Liability Suits Are Way Up


By: Barry Miller

Tort lawsuit filings in federal district courts dropped by 27 percent in 2020 according to Lex Machina, the legal analytics arm of Lexis.

The service compiled statistics for suits filed between January 1 to December 6, 2020, comparing numbers for the same period in 2018 and 2019. At 16,725 this year’s tort filings fell below even the 2018 number of 16,958.

Filings were down 10 percent in all categories but one—Products Liability—which was a massive outlier. Federal courts docketed more than 250,000 products cases in 2020 compared to 53,500 in 2019.

Such filings may be spurred even more by recent holdings that online retailers can be liable for defective products manufactured by third parties but sold on the retailers’ platforms. In August a California Court of Appeal overturned a summary judgment for Amazon when a plaintiff alleged that a battery she bought from an Amazon vendor exploded, causing her severe burns. And in late 2019 Amazon settled a similar case in federal court in Pennsylvania before the Third Circuit could review a 2-1 decision panel decision against it. Both courts found that Amazon was in a better position than the buyer to stop the circulation of defective products.

This comes as CNN argues that the COVID-19 crisis has created two distinct groups of retailers: “those with functioning e-commerce businesses, and those without.” Online sales have taken a steadily larger share of the market in recent years, and the pandemic has accelerated that trend.

Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Tort and Catastrophic Loss practice group can assist retailers and others in the products chain who  face such lawsuits. If you have questions or would like more information, please contact  Barry Miller at

Additional Information:

FMG has formed a Coronavirus Task Force to provide up-to-the-minute information, strategic advice, and practical solutions for our clients.  Our group is an interdisciplinary team of attorneys who can address the multitude of legal issues arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, including issues related to Healthcare, Product Liability, Tort Liability, Data Privacy, and Cyber and Local Governments.  For more information about the Task Force, click here.

You can also contact your FMG relationship partner or email the team with any questions at

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