\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0On March 7, 2013, Chief Justice Toal issued the Fast Track Jury Trial Administrative Order permitting implementation of the Fast Track Jury Trial statewide.1 The Administrative Order builds upon and provides a uniform structure to the ad hoc system used in Charleston and surrounding counties for more than 10 years. Fast Track Jury Trials (Fast Tracks) have become a popular method of trying cases in those areas that have experimented with the system. The Charleston County Clerk of Court reports that from 2010 through the end of 2012, approximately 40 percent of cases tried to verdict were Fast Tracks. Depending on the case, Fast Tracks can provide advantages such as a date-certain trial and reduced out-of-pocket expenses.
\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0History of Fast Track Jury Trials in South Carolina
\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0A Fast Track is an expedited yet abbreviated trial tried before an attorney who is paid by the parties to act as a judge with a six-person jury panel. It first appeared in South Carolina approximately 13 years ago. Charleston attorneys Samuel R. Clawson and Karen McCormick participated in the first Fast Track before the Hon. Daniel J. Piper in Charleston. Since then, attorneys in the First and Ninth Circuits have repeatedly engaged in Fast Tracks, which were generally called “Summary Jury Trials.” Fast Tracks in South Carolina have binding jury verdicts and are used almost exclusively in personal injury cases.
\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Benefits of a Fast Track Jury Trial
\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0The Administrative Order establishes the rules and procedures for the Fast Track process. The rules are flexible to allow the parties to present their case in a traditional manner; however, the parties are also permitted to agree to a relaxed application of the evidentiary rules for a more streamlined presentation. Parties who desire to engage in a Fast Track do so by entering into a “Consent Order Granting a Fast Track Jury Trial and Appointing a Special Hearing Officer.”2 The agreement is irrevocable absent a finding of fraud.
\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Cases are tried before an attorney who is mutually agreed upon and compensated by the parties. This attorney, known as a Special Hearing Officer, must be a member of the South Carolina Bar and must have completed the trial experience requirements of Rule 403. The costs of the Special Hearing Officer are typically split equally between the parties.
\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0One of the most appealing facets of the Fast Track is that the parties are given a date-certain for trial. Once the parties provide the clerk of court with a filed copy of the consent order, the case is removed from the docket and a mutually convenient trial date is set. Date-certain trials can provide an inherent cost savings by avoiding the need to appear for multiple roster meetings or the need to issue repeated subpoenas to witnesses. Under the Administrative Order parties are also able to limit their expenses by being excused from mandatory mediation and/or arbitration.
\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0\xA0Under the Order, the parties may agree to a high/low agreement, not to be disclosed to the jury. Defendants and their insurance carriers typically insist on a high of policy limits or less as an absolute condition. To a defendant and the defendant’s insurer, this is particularly important due to limited or no post-trial recourse to the litigants. On the other side of...