Tuesday, October 04, 2011

A one-day jury trial -- part two

I didn't think a one-day civil jury trial was possible until a year or two ago when Long Suffering Spouse served as a juror in just such a case.

Of course, hers was a property damage subrogation case, a particular kind of case that has clogged our local dockets. When Car A rear-ends Car B, and when both cars are insured by "standard" carriers, the subro claim by the carrier for Car B against the carrier for Car A is more than likely handled in a phone call or email. Make the facts more interesting, so that Car A is attempting a left hand turn when it comes into contact with Car B, and the two carriers may have something to argue about. But the "standard" carriers have executed binding agreements with each other, agreeing to keep those arguments out of court and resolve them by arbitration. Locally, these claims are heard by a company called Arbitration Forums. I understand AF to be a national company but, as I recall, it has a local office in north suburban Deerfield.

Not all insurance companies have signed the inter-company arbitration agreement. The companies that have refused to sign are generally referred to as "sub-standard" carriers. Claims involving these carriers are generally not settled over the phone. They do not go to arbitration. They go to court. The sub-standards always, always, always demand a jury trial. And there are a lot of these cases. (A new Illinois statute is supposed to cut back on these cases; a constitutional challenge may delay, and ultimately prevent, the implementation of the proposed reform.)

Somehow -- and I don't know how, so don't ask -- the sub-standards make money by doing business this way. It may have to do with the value of money over time. I did know a guy who really knew the secret, once upon a time, but he died before he could share it with me. Not that he ever promised to do so, mind you. Not that he ever hinted he would. But once I found out that he knew, had he lived, I would have kept trying to find out.

Anyway, the case on which my wife served as juror was one of these sub-standard PD claims. The attorneys, she said, were younger than some of our children, and she thought one of the attorney's voices was not through changing yet. He must have squeaked a few times. They read from notes; their notes shook when they read. But there could only be three witnesses at one of these trials, the owner of Car A, the owner of Car B and the insurance adjuster who calculated the damage. There are only so many questions one can ask of any of these. And, most important, the trial judge was insistent that this case would be concluded before the end of the day.

And so it was.

From a policy standpoint, I thought this was a tremendous idea. The sub-standards want jury trials? Give them one in every possible courtroom, one a day at least. Stack them up like cordwood. Try 'em one after the other. The strain of finding and securing witnesses, getting them to the courthouse, and keeping them available would put a strain on the firms handling these cases. Eventually, I believe, the sub-standards' business practices would have to change.

But I don't know that there are enough judges willing to pursue this course. My experience has taught me otherwise. And I certainly didn't think that other types of cases could be pushed through in a single day. Again, my experience taught me otherwise.

And I'll talk about those experiences tomorrow.

Do you like how I'm getting a week's worth of posts out of a one-day trial?

1 comment:

Dave said...

Were you me with my recent output, you'd be getting a month's worth of posts out, possibly two.