On September 30, 2010, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law the Expedited Jury Trials Act. The Act, introduced by a former insurance defense litigator, allows litigants to agree to a quicker, simpler, and cheaper jury trial option.
Under the Act, cases will be heard on a certain date, before a judge and an eight-person jury. Each party will be given three peremptory challenges in selecting the jury. Once the jury is empanelled, each side will be limited to three hours to put on its case—including opening and closing arguments. Unless the parties agree to relax the rules, the California Rules of Evidence will apply.
Although participation in the program is voluntary, verdicts—reached by six members of the jury—are binding unless the litigants discover evidence of fraud or misconduct. The binding aspect of the trial is less worrying, however, because the parties must agree to a confidential “high-low” damages payment prior to trial. This arrangement guarantees plaintiffs a minimum payment, while capping the defendants’ potential exposure.
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