California Creates Expedited Jury Trials Law: Why The Law Won't Benefit You The Accident Victim
On January 1, 2011 the Expedited Jury Trials Act goes into effect. It is an attempt by the legislature to shorten the trial process in cases with modest values and it's really directed at limited jurisdiction personal injury cases that make up a large percentage of civil trials. The act establishes procedures for conducting expedited jury trials, including provisions for a jury of 8 or fewer members, with no alternates, a limit of 3 peremptory challenges for each side, and a limit of 3 hours for each side to present its case. o The act also provides that all parties waive all rights to appeal and the right to move for a directed verdict or to make any post-trial motions, except as provided. The act provides that the verdict in an expedited jury trial is binding, subject to any written high/low agreement.
It sounds great. Our court system is woefully underfunded. The average case takes more than a year from the date the complaint is filed to the date of trial. The delay is a real problem for consumers and a benefit to corporate defendants, particularly insurance companies. (Want to know why the over burdened court system and the trial delays are bad for consumers? Read this article http://tinyurl.com/265op94 (http://tinyurl.com/265op94)).
Unfortunately, the impact of Expedited Jury Trial Act will be negligible because insurance companies won't agree to Expedited Jury Trials in most cases. The Act is aimed at limited jurisdiction cases. In limited jurisdiction cases the jury cannot award any more than $25,000--the limit of its jurisdiction. In a limited case even a modest insurance policy exceeds the most that can be lost by the insurance companies and awarded to the accident victim. The reason the act won't have the desired effect is that insurance companies love limited jurisdiction cases, and don't want to change a thing.
Traditionally, limited jurisdiction cases were straight forward and fast. But over the past decade insurance companies have adopted a hard line position-they will pay tens of thousands of dollars to defend a case rather than settle it. Even meritorious cases are dragged out in an attempt to wear down the victim and make the litigation so expensive that a jury verdict can be a pyrrhic victory. In other words the costs to win the trial gobble up the verdict amount.
Insurance companies regularly use accident reconstructionists and "biomechanical experts" in limited jurisdiction cases to attempt to prove the injury could not have been caused by the car wreck or the fall or whatever the facts are. The insurance companies use the same "experts" over and over and so they obtain bargain rates.
Studies have shown that juries are often influenced by accident reconstruction-biomechanic experts. They can be persuasive (even if their facts are wrong and their opinions are based on junk science); therefore, Plaintiff's lawyers often employ their own experts to counter the defendant's. This means more legal costs and less recovery for you, the victim.
In a recent limited jurisdiction case undertaken by our firm our expert witness (accident reconstructionist) demanded $7,000.00 to testify. Wow. The treating physician charged $1000 an hour to testify. Oof! With medical bills of $5700 even if the jury awarded the plaintiff the jurisdictional maximum of $25,000 the amount the plaintiff would ultimately receive made the case one in which even a jury verdict wasn't much of a victory.
What can be done to protect you, the victim? Instead, of expedited trials limited jurisdiction cases should preclude accident reconstructionists and similar experts. This would decrease the cost and complexity of the cases and result in the desired judicial economy-trials would be shorter and less expensive. Or the "experts" should not be allowed to testify instead a written report could be submitted to the jury. But that simple solution will never happen because the insurance companies are too politically powerful for such a law to be passed. No legislator will stand up to the powerful political action committees working for the insurance companies.
So the insurance companies have serious political power, and we can't fix the system. What can be done? Well, the only other thing to do is to bravely try the case without an accident reconstructionist. But, to do that you need a skilled attorney who can expose the junk science that accident reconstructionists use in modest speed cases.
The main problem with their testimony is that it is ultimately based upon an estimate of the impact speed. And an estimate of impact speed is meaningless. One can't truly determine the force of the impact without knowing the speed of the vehicles at impact. One can almost never measure the impact speed in limited jurisdiction cases because there is not any evidence of it.
Your attorney should think outside the box. Instead of using an accident reconstructionist the plaintiff's counsel can employ a driving teacher to opine about the rules of the road and the thousands of serious injuries which occur every year in relatively low speed impacts. He might also employ physics teacher to explain the science and explain why without a verified speed measurement the defense expert's testimony is unsupported by facts.
The game is fixed. Insurance companies have the upper hand. But don't lose hope. If you have suffered a modest injury in a low speed impact make sure your lawyer has a plan to win and is willing to take the case to trial. Ask him or her about the expenses. Ask him about experts. If he can't explain what a "Delta V" is you're talking to the wrong lawyer.