Summary jury trials will level the playing field for auto accident victims with smaller amounts outstanding bills in No Fault PIP cases and less serious injuries
The Michigan Supreme Court recently authorized a pilot project for summary jury trials. The pilot will be instituted in Macomb County Circuit Court — and other courts if it’s approved by the Supreme Court.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this type of trial, a summary jury trial is a voluntary, binding jury trial, which by design typically takes one day before a panel of six jurors. It’s presided over by the assigned judge, an appointed judge or a special hearing officer.
Summary jury trials are a faster and cheaper alternative to traditional civil litigation. As President of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association, and recently at the Advanced Auto Accident 3.0 Seminar in Las Vegas, I spoke about the need for states like Michigan to adopt new ways to make civil cases more accessible to people who have suffered harms, but where those harms cannot justify the costs we typically see in more serious injury cases. To me, they’re a great equalizer that will level the playing field with the insurance companies. These summary jury trials are especially effective in lower damage cases, such as cases with smaller injuries or first-party No Fault litigation with only a few thousand dollars outstanding that the insurance companies are refusing to pay, but where it would cost the lawyer probably that much to bring it to trial.
Summary jury trials will also be effective in injury cases with lower bodily injury insurance limits, such as the traditional 20/40 BI policy in Michigan, where the parties agree to a high-low instead of to traditional arbitration.
Our very own Michigan Auto Law attorney and principle in the firm Bobby Raitt helped draft the language for the order approving the pilot program. Judge John C. Foster of the Macomb County Circuit Court also sits on the committee and is excited to test the summary jury trials in Macomb County.
Bobby also says the summary jury trial option is important for the legal community because it’s a low-cost, quick way to resolve cases that are smaller in stature with little overhead.
The pilot project will be in effect for 24 months.
Here are more benefits to the program:
- Allowing access to the courts by parties who may otherwise be unable to afford traditional litigation;
- Providing opportunities for young lawyers to obtain valuable courtroom experience; and
- Providing many of the same benefits of arbitration while allowing a jury to make the decision rather than a panel of three arbitrators that can normally cost each party several thousand dollars.
Of course, the program isn’t perfect. I particularly do not like the part that a lawyer cannot challenge a juror for cause. I believe that’s troubling and is likely the weakest part of the experimental program. But the idea is one-day trials, and this was the compromise.
The summary jury trial procedure differs from a traditional trial in many respects, as reported by Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s Ed Wesoloski in “Summary jury trial pilot slated for Macomb Circuit Court”:
- Cases can be hearing by a sitting judge, a retired judge or a special hearing officer, who must be licensed to practice law in Michigan.
- Case evaluation beforehand is not required, but the parties may choose to engage in some form of alternative dispute resolution before the summary jury trial.
- No record of the proceeding will be made unless a party wants a record and is willing to pay for it.
- Six jurors will be selected from 10. Challenges for cause are not permitted and jury selection is to be completed in 30 minutes.
- Opening statements and closing arguments are limited to 15 minutes. Parties must present their cases in two hours or less.
- Jury verdicts are binding, and post-trial relief is limited to a motion for a new trial based on irregularities or an abuse of discretion that denies the moving party a fair trial, errors of law, jury misconduct or “fraud (intrinsic or extrinsic) of an adverse party.”
- Parties must agree to waive taxation of costs and sanctions, except in the case of fraud. Appeals must also be waived, unless fraud is involved.