TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Friday, August 31, 2018

Two by Engstrom on Trials

Nora Freeman Engstrom has posted to SSRN two pieces about trials.  First, The Diminished Trial.  The abstract provides:

Civil trials, many have noted, are going the way of the dodo bird. Federal courts conducted half as many civil trials in 2016 as they did in 1962, even while disposing of over five times as many civil cases. A similar trend is apparent in the states. Of course, this trajectory has not escaped scholarly attention. Barrels of ink have been spilled investigating, eulogizing, and variously, mourning or lauding, the “vanishing trial.” But, this is far from the whole story. This Article shifts the conversation to a different, though related, phenomenon: not the disappearance of the civil trial, but rather, its downsizing. I take as my point of departure two puzzling trends. First, since 1983, “protracted” trials, which is to say trials that last over 20 days, are way down. There were more than 100 such trials per year in the late 1980s, but in 2016, we only saw only 13. Second, over the same timespan, really short trials, which is to say trials lasting one day or less, are up. Indeed, starting in 2009, and every year since, the majority of all federal civil trials have wrapped up in only one day. This paper seeks to highlight these trends, which have so far escaped scholarly attention, and also to conduct a preliminary investigation into the potential causes and consequences.

Second, The Trouble with Trial Time Limits.  The abstract provides:

Civil trial rates are at an all-time low. Meanwhile, “trial time limits” — judicially imposed limits on the time litigants have to present their evidence at trial — seem to be at an all-time high. We have fewer trials than ever, yet we’re taking aggressive steps to curtail the few that we’ve got. This Article zeroes in on this paradox. It excavates time limits’ origins, tracks their rise, examines their administration, and raises deep questions about their fairness and utility. Trial time limits have, so far, been variously ignored or, alternatively, lauded, as a way to promote juror comprehension and as a tool to make trials cheaper and more efficient. Indeed, one court has gone so far as to call these restrictions “essential” to sensible docket management. This Article challenges that conventional story and cautions against time limits’ regular or reflexive application. In so doing, this Article seeks to begin a broader inquiry into how the American civil trial of the twenty-first century is not only disappearing; the scattered trials that remain are also changing, in subtle and hard-to-quantify but profoundly important ways.

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