The depressed economic environment also kept down tort costs, a new study finds.

The report, from Stamford, Conn.-based global professional services firm Towers Perrin, found that tort costs in the United States rose by $2.7 billion in 2008 an increase of 1.1%.

Towers Perrin attributes this small increase to several factors, including a decrease in miles driven, which reduced personal auto and commercial auto claims costs. Indeed, the total tort costs from commercial lines in 2008 fell by 0.4% over 2007. 

“Despite the chaos in the financial markets in 2008, the tort cost environment in the United States was relatively benign,” said Russ Sutter, a Towers Perrin consultant and author of the report. “The slight increase was less than the general inflation in the U.S., and was well below the growth rates seen earlier this decade."

Another contributing factor was declining medical malpractice costs. However, this variable is likely to change going forward, Sutter said.

“Looking beyond 2009, and probably 2010, we see general inflation and judicial attitudes as being potential catalysts for higher tort cost growth rates,” he said. “As such, we see medical malpractice as very susceptible to a quick change, given its costs. Further, because of the long time period needed to resolve many malpractice claims, coupled with the heavy use of the court system, this area of tort costs could see a return to the growth rates seen in the mid-1970s, mid-1980s and for a brief time, earlier in this decade.”

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