The outcome of many civil lawsuits, including those related to nursing home abuse and neglect, hinge on procedural rules. These rules refer to the mechanics of how the justice system works. They are the nitty gritty detail about what paperwork has to be filed, timing requirements, threshold requirements before having a day in court, the process for collecting information from the opposing side, and more. This should be distinguished from the substantive rules regarding liability which refer to the specific items that must be proven to win a case.
Many community members are unfamiliar with procedural rules and may underestimate how important they are to one receiving compensation and accountability following preventable injury. Perhaps for that very reason, chronic defendants like big corporations are trying to change rules to offer more advantages for the company at the expense of the injured plaintiff. This fight is similar to that of forced arbitration: it is taking place at the federal level and many are completely unaware of the encroachment.
Possible Federal Civil Procedure Rule Changes
Last week the American Association for Justice (AAJ) issued a report explaining the latest attempt by some to alter the rules at the federal level. On November 7th, hearings were held in front of the Judicial Conference of the United States to consider the changes. Advocates for both sides, including the AAJ President, testified at the hearings.
The changes on the table mostly center around the part of a civil lawsuit known as “discovery.” Discovery is the critical time when information is exchanged and uncovered by both sides in preparation for a potential trial. In most cases, the discovery process is the most intensive of any stage, often revealing information which sheds light on the truth and results in a settlement–saving the time and expense of a trial.
Yet, per the proposed rule changes, discovery would be limited. More specifically, the new rules call for decreasing the number of depositions that can be taken and “remov[ing] incentives to preserve critical documents.”
The AAJ report points out just one area that may be impacted–reporting of fraud against companies like nursing homes. In fraud cases, it is critical to review large quantities of documents and patient files which indicate the care provided and matching that with billing records. Yet, under the new rules, it would be hard (if not impossible) for plaintiffs to access those documents and seek recovery for taxpayers.
It is easy to see why large companies like the new rule, but it is far harder to come up with any reason why the change is necessary for regular community members or the public at large.
Summarizing the risk of a change, the AAJ President explained that “these changes would devastate Americans’ access to justice and rig the courts in favor of corporations that violate our rights. This will further stack the deck against American citizens and small businesses seeking accountability in court.”
It is important for all residents in Illinois and Chicago to be aware of these encroachments on their rights, standing up to defend fair and open access to the civil justice system.
See Other Blog Posts: