FASTAR Arrives in Pima County
A new pilot program in Pima County drastically changes the rules for smaller civil claims.
As of November 1, 2017, there are new rules in Pima County for resolution of smaller cases certified to be less than $50,000.
The acronym FASTAR stands for “Fast Trials and Alternative Resolution.”
Most small car accident cases still fall under the $50,000 threshold for many reasons. Oftentimes the reason is because the defendant only has a small liability policy of $50,000 or less. Unless the injury involves a broken bone or a hospital stay, the $50,000 limit still works for a majority of car accident cases. Many smaller contract cases also fall under this limit.
Prior to FASTAR, cases under $50,000 had mandatory arbitration, meaning trials were not allowed in the smaller cases. They had to be arbitration first as arbitration was mandatory. However, an adverse ruling in an arbitration proceeding could always be appealed to superior court “de novo” (literally meaning starting anew) as the right to trial by jury is preserved in the Arizona Constitution. Now the rules have changed. Here are a few of the changes:
- At time of filing, the plaintiff can elect a fast trial by jury or an arbitration. If arbitration is selected, the right to an appeal de novo is lost by the plaintiff, but not by the defendant as the defendant did not “waive” the right to trial by jury.
- If trial by jury is selected, the trial occurs quickly. In legalese, “quickly” means trial within 190-270 days of filing.
- Discovery is now limited to 5 written questions from the adverse party, 5 requests for production and 10 requests for admission. This ends the burdensome discovery that plaintiffs would face in bringing the small case.
- Deposition time is limited to 2 hours per witness not the usual 4.
- Expert witness depositions are limited to one hour per side with a 2-hour total. Expert fees can’t exceed $500 per hour. The expert fee is divided proportionately by the number of minutes used by each side in deposing the witness. If each side takes one hour the one hour fee is shared equally.
- The parties can agree to a six-member jury instead of 8.
- Jury questioning is limited to 15 minutes per side: opening statements are limited to 20 minutes per side, presenting a case in chief is limited to 3 hours, closing arguments cannot exceed 30 minutes, and the entire trial can only last 2 full days, start to finish.
There are other rules that make working the smaller case through the system an easier process, but the above are the basic changes that make “discovery” less onerous, and force the parties to get to the relevant facts, and not dwell on the fringes. The new trial by jury rules are hoped to give younger less experienced lawyers an opportunity to gain jury trial experience. Pima County is proud to be the leader in this smaller case resolution “experiment.”
The FASTAR program is a pilot program in Pima County only. It is being watched carefully by the State Bar and local County Bar associations with the idea being that if it is successful and is shown to be helpful in reducing the back log of smaller cases, it will be adopted statewide.