Summary jury trials: Another form of ADR

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by William D. Gilbride, Jr., Esq.

December 2018

A summary jury trial is a one-day jury trial that combines the flexibility and cost-effectiveness of arbitration with the structure of a conventional trial. The process is simple: the parties select a petit jury and try the case in court before the petit jury on a limited basis. The summary trial is completed in one day with a limit on the number of live witnesses and allows for the admission of “evidence” such as deposition transcripts and affidavits. Generally, the summary jury trial concept eliminates excessive procedural complexity, lengthy discovery periods, motion practice and similar costs associated with civil litigation.  The jury’s verdict can be either binding or advisory.

In those instances when the verdict is advisory, the summary jury trial is a form of ADR that explicitly incorporates the concept of trial by jury but eliminates the risk of a binding decision or the expense associated with a lengthy jury trial.  

The summary jury trial grew out of both alternative dispute resolution programs and efforts to provide litigants with their “day in court.” The summary trial creates enough information in the limited record for the parties to make decisions about the merits of the case in order to make an “informed” settlement; it provides lawyers with the opportunity to try more civil cases; and it allows jurors to fulfill their jury duty service in one day. 

The jury’s verdict can also be binding.Cases that are wellsuited for summary jury trials include cases that are factually and legally straightforward with a single or a limited number of issues to be resolved such as simple tort and auto cases, small business cases and cases where the likely value of the claim does not warrant the expense of live expert testimony or exhaustive trial preparation. 

Providing for a summary jury trial increases access to justice by giving a client his/her “day in court.” Proponents of the process believe adopting a rule for summary jury trials will increase the number of jury
trials, which currently in Michigan account for less than 2% of all filed civil cases.  Allowing for the use of summary jury trials will provide a forum for civil lawyers to get valuable trial experience during a time when many civil lawyers never get the opportunity to try civil cases. 

Currently, 26 states have authorized one form or another of expedited jury trial programs. In 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court entered Administrative Order No. 2015-1 which authorized a pilot project for summary jury trials in the Circuit Court of Macomb County, thereby establishing a pilot program for Michigan practitioners to experiment with the summary jury trial technique in appropriate cases.  The Michigan State Bar Negligence Law Section has endorsed Administrative Order No. 2015-1.

The American Board of Trial Advocates is an association of experienced trial lawyers and judges which is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the civil jury trial right provided by the Seventh Amendment. In 2012 it issued a formal resolution supporting the concept of expedited jury trials and endorsed the adoption of such programs throughout all jurisdictions. 

In order to protect our constitutional right to trial by jury and to assure that lawyers are trained in the art of conducting jury trials, it is important that Michigan consider the summary jury trial as a form of binding or advisory dispute resolution that combines the attributes of the jury system with an expedited cost-effective way for litigants to resolve their civil disputes.

William D. Gilbride, Jr. is a shareholder in the Detroit office of Abbott Nicholson, P.C. He has devoted his professional life to dispute resolution and conducts trials, arbitrations, facilitative mediation and case evaluation services. Gilbride is a member of ABOTA and currently serves as Chair of the State Bar ADR Council.   Please contact Gilbride at wdgilbride@abbottnicholson.com or visit www.premiadr.com for information about a PREMi (Professional Resolution Experts of Michigan) professional with expertise in ADR.

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