What do the current statistics tell us?
Statistics are often derided. Are they meaningful, worth the time?
Mark Twain said "facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable." He also said that "there are lies, damned lies and statistics." I will leave the value of statistics to others. It is that time of year when people ask what the filing volumes look like for the fiscal year. Generally, they precede the question with either lamentation or exultation that their own volumes are down or up as the case may be and seek some comparison with the system as a whole.
Late last month, we gathered for an educational conference in Tallahassee. During the course of the day, several people asked me what the filing volumes look like. I try to keep these current on a quarterly basis. So, imagine my surprise when I updated them in early March and found I had not done so since the beginning of the fiscal year last July 1.
The numbers are interesting. New cases refers to the volume of PFBs filed, which represent the first PFB in the history of that particular accident by that particular injured worker. New case filings peaked in 2002-03 (we have maintained statistics on this only since the DOAH era began in 2001-02) at 56,869. Since then, new cases have declined every year. Ten consecutive years of decreases in new cases.
The trend for 2014 (July 1, 2013 through June 30, 2014) is supporting that this ten year trend will be broken in 2014. The trend is supporting an increase in new cases this year, currently an increase of about 5%. The new case volume could be back to 2011 volumes by year's end, if the trend continues. The 2014 new case volume increases overall were significantly driven by strong new case filings in August (+7%), September (+10%), and October (+6%).
Each case might involve no petitions (PFB) or several. The "no petition" cases are those opened for litigation of discovery disputes (although those frequently later involve a PFB) or cases opened for consideration of a settlement motion. Over the last ten years, the PFB filing volume has decreased more significantly than the new case volume. The new case trend has been down, but usually in a less marked fluctuation than the PFB trends.
PFB trends for FY 2014 are also up from 2013. However, the increase is closer to 3%. The total projected may be increased compared to 2013, but if the trend remains consistent are not projected to approach the 2012 total of 61,345. The current PFB filing increase (almost 3%) results in large part to significantly strong filings in November (+8%) and December (+8%) 2013.
As we approach the end of FY 2014, the final four months of the year (March, April, May, June) may support these projections. FY 2014 could be the first increase in new cases in ten years. It could be the first significant increase in PFB filings, there was a minimal increase in PFB filings in 2008-09, following the Supreme Court ruling in Murray.
Why are filings indicating increase? I leave that prognostication to others. Some will suggest that it is an improving economy generally, others will point to increased construction specifically, while others will point to litigation trends. Whether one of these or something else entirely, that conclusion is for you, the reader.