In July of 2013, Minnesota passed significant changes to the rules that govern civil litigation, which would include personal injury claims. Minnesota adopted similar rules for federal courts and also instituted a “rocket-docket” as a trial program to see if a system could be developed that would cut down the time and expense to try civil cases. The pilot program is set up in Dakota and St. Louis Counties.
These new rules have been in place for over nine months now and the transition has been easier than many feared. This is often the case with major changes, new rules created an anxiety and concern among lawyers. However, I think most of us have seen that this sky did not fall. As cases get closer to jury trials, we will again experience the second major effect of the new rules.
Under the old rules, when your BGS attorneys filed a lawsuit, we also served “discovery” which is written requests for information. The defendant usually did the same with their Answer. This required significant work on behalf of our clients to help us answer the requests of defense.
Now, however, the parties cannot request discovery initially but must wait until the attorneys meet and complete some required tasks. However, we do need our clients to identify witnesses and items of “damages” or items of harms and losses they suffered as a result of the collision for our “initial disclosures.” The new rules require both parties to voluntarily disclose information that they have under a variety of categories. For us, this means identifying people with knowledge as to either the facts of the accident or our client’s injuries. This can include family members, friends, co-workers or other people we might call at trial.
It’s important for our clients to thoroughly consider and identify these people since the rules allow for the court to preclude or prevent them from testifying later on if we did not disclose them in a timely manner. It is also important to carefully consider and include any monetary losses or other items of “damages” since again the Court can preclude us from presenting them at trial if we did not disclose them in a timely manner.
The attorneys have to discuss a Discovery Plan which includes when the parties will exchange the “initial disclosures,” set deadlines for the completion of a written exchange of information, set depositions, mediation or arbitration and other deadlines. This plan must be put in writing within 14 days after the conference and only after that is completed can the parties begin “discovery.”
Then the case proceeds under the new rules in a very similar manner to which it did under the old rules. All cases have to be filed with the court within one year or they can be dismissed so the court has earlier involvement over lawsuits. The court sets up a plan as to when pretrial issues and disclosures will be completed and sets a date for the trial.
Another major change in the rules deals with the amount of work the parties have to do as they get closer to trial. Again, modeling itself after the federal rules, Minnesota now requires the parties to do a lot of work in the last several weeks before trial. The parties, particularly defendants in a standard auto collision case have to provide more information concerning the “expert” witnesses they intend to call at trial. This doesn’t affect the injured party’s treating doctors but does affect the so-called “professional” experts such as the doctors defendants hire. These doctors must now disclose more information about the work they do for litigants.
Regarding the pretrial disclosures, we now must disclose more information by 30 days before the trial date. The rules give courts the authority to exclude information that was not properly disclosed. Thus, we need our clients to help us to provide information for which disclosure is mandated by the rules to reduce the chance the court might later prevent us from using helpful information at trial. The rules also introduce the concept of “proportionality” to the information exchange process. The goal is to reduce time and expense to litigants on cases where the monetary value does not justify such expenditures. We may be able to use this rule to prevent overbroad and over-reaching requests by defense counsel for prior financial, medical and social media information.
Under the pilot project in Dakota and St. Louis (Duluth) Counties, the purpose is to create a system to reduce the time and expense to parties with cases valued at $100,000 or less. While the program has been put in place in these two counties, the main features of the program are to provide significantly less discovery or disclosure of information in a much shorter period of time. The goal is to have a case tried within four to six months of when it was started. The parties will usually be given a “date certain” which means that the trial will be likely tried at the time indicated rather than being postponed. This program will apply to not only personal injury cases, but business disputes or other litigation (except for family law matters). The idea is to analyze the experience in these two counties, make improvements and consider whether the program will be expanded to other counties in the state.
Our attorneys and staff in the litigation departments have put in place procedures to implement these new changes and I think the transition has gone fairly well. We would certainly welcome input from our clients who have gone through these new rules as to their thoughts about them. Contrary to some attorneys’ fears, the sky did not fall and the normal “growing pains” when any significant changes are put in place have been minimal.
The experienced Personal Injury attorneys at Barna, Guzy,& Steffen, LTD. will work on your behalf and explore all the legal options to help garner you the best possible outcomes for you case. As always, they will be by your side, assisting you each step of the way, particularly through these newer requirements of the law. If you or a loved one have suffered a Personal Injury or loss that is not your fault, please contact us today so that we may begin fighting on your behalf.