Houston, We Have an Opportunity: 4 Fast-Growing Civil Litigation Practice Areas
The amount of new civil litigation in Houston jumped 23% over the past five years.
Some practice areas like real property, motor vehicle and contract matters, saw double-digit gains from 2015 to 2019, while others like asbestos silica and other product liability cases saw major declines, according to data from the Texas Office of Court Administration.
Overall, there were 45,592 new civil cases filed in Harris County district courts in 2015, and the number increased to 55,985 in 2019, according to the data. The largest number came in 2018, when the county’s district courts saw 61,440 new civil cases filed.
This means 2019’s tally of nearly 56,000 represented a 9% drop from the previous year.
1.Real property is hot
But this 9% drop in civil litigation from 2018 to 2019 follows steady increases of 30% since 2014, according to Harris County District Courts Administrator Clay Bowman.
“Increases occurred over that period in all civil case types, but noticeably in real property cases,” he wrote in an email.
The court data shows real property cases grew by 79% over the past five years, from 3,845 in 2015 to 6,888 cases in 2019.
A major contributing factor: Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in August 2017, and caused devastating property damage.
The statistics show the impact: in 2017 there were 5,445 cases, while in 2018 there were 7,925, which is a 46% year-over-year increase. The numbers began to drop in 2019, with 6,888 real property cases.
2. Motor vehicle cases rose 71%
The number of injury or damage cases involving motor vehicles has grown by 71% in Harris County within the five years, from 7,434 to 12,747 cases. Houston is not alone in this uptick. The Texas Judiciary’s most recent annual report noted that statewide, there’s been a 79% spike in motor vehicle cases in 10 years, from 34,000 in 2010 to 55,000 in 2019.
3. Eminent domain litigation is booming
Another trend across Texas is increasing numbers of eminent domain cases: The statistical report tracked a 150% increase in five years statewide. This practice area is tiny in Houston, however, it’s seen a great increase in five years from nine to 72 cases, which is a 700% increase.
Debt cases have also been on the rise across Texas, and Houston was no exception. The data shows that there were 4,508 debt cases in 2015, and the number rose to 6,246 five years later, which is a 39% increase.
4. Contract disputes are on the rise
Other growth practice areas in Harris County included contract cases, which experienced a 41% increase in the past five years, and other injury or damage cases, which increased by 47% from 2015 to 2019.
Malpractice, tax litigation remained flat
Some practice areas have stayed relatively flat in the five-year time period, clocking increases ranging from just 1% to 5%. These include tax cases, which numbered about 9,700 in 2019; medical malpractice cases, of which there were 271 in 2019; other professional malpractice, which numbered 43; and other civil cases, which counted 3,691 cases.
Product liability, asbestos suit decline
Meanwhile, Harris County saw declines in three practice areas. Asbestos and silica cases have dropped by 74%, from 187 cases in 2015 to 49 in 2019. Product liability cases are also on the decline: There were 102 cases in 2015, and just 68 in 2019, which is a 33% drop.
Another area where there was a decline was civil cases related to a criminal matter. There were 11,828 of these cases in 2015, and just 9,914 in 2019, which is a 16% decrease.
Harris County District Courts Administrator Clay Bowman noted that civil cases related to a criminal matter include bond forfeiture, seizure and forfeiture, expunction, extraditions and writs. He said that the drop in this case type accounts for the majority of Harris County’s overall 9% decline in total civil cases.
“We have a new district attorney and many new district judges trying criminal cases,” Bowman wrote in an email. “Policy changes in criminal justice may have resulted in related civil cases trending downward.”