A bill that provides for expedited, streamlined jury trials in California has cruised out of the state Legislature with a unanimous vote.
Insurers and both the plaintiff and defense bars are enthusiastic about the Expedited Jury Trials Act.
Christopher Dolan, president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, described an "unusual constellation of parties coming together" over the legislation.
AB 2284 (.pdf), introduced by veteran civil litigator Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, would allow litigants -- if both sides agree -- to opt for quicker, simpler trials in civil cases.
The act would allow for an eight-person or smaller jury, with a three-hour time limit for both sides to present their cases. It would also limit both sides to three peremptory challenges.
Before the trial, both sides would agree to confidential "high-low" damages; plaintiffs would be guaranteed a minimum payment and defendants would be assured a payment cap, no matter what the jury's verdict.
The jury would have no alternates and the courtroom would have no court reporter, unless a party agrees to pay for one. The jury's decision would be final and binding, unless the litigants discover fraud or misconduct.
Proponents say the voluntary system would not only cut litigation costs for plaintiffs, defendants and insurance carriers, but also help to ease the burden on courts.
Civil filings continued a statewide upward trend last year, rising 11 percent to 1.27 million, according to a Judicial Council report released Tuesday. Unlimited jurisdiction civil filings hit a 10-year high.
"It's truly a win-win-win situation," said Daniel Pone, a Judicial Council senior attorney who has led disparate interests through the rule-making process for two years.
The new system is modeled on expedited trial systems in place in New York and South Carolina. Both the Consumer Attorneys and the Civil Justice Association of California ponied up money to bring experts from both systems out to California.
CJAC President John Sullivan said the expedited jury trials would offer a middle path between arbitration or mediation and a laborious trial.
"This fills the gap between the two," he said. "It has the benefits of a trial and more vigorous presentation of information, but is far more efficient than it would have been in a full-blown trial."
The governor has until the end of September to act on the bill. If he signs it, the new rules could take effect next January.