The Courts: Traffic Jam

Dead: 422. Injured: more than 20,000. Cause: driving on those happy, blood-soaked holidays, Christmas and New Year's. As the last twisted wreck was towed away, the last bits of glass and gore rinsed off the asphalt, lawyers and insurance companies began the dreary job of figuring up the price tag on destruction. Determining who pays how much for auto accidents is far and away the biggest legal business in the U.S. today.

The automobile accounts for half to three-quarters of personal-injury suits, fully 25% of all civil cases brought to state law courts. In Chicago, more than 50,000 auto cases are...

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