California trial lawyers successfully passed SB 688 out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Aug. 27, 2002 that, if enacted, will substantially increase lawsuits, insurance costs and legal costs to local government throughout the state, according to the Personal Insurance Federation of California (PIFC).
SB 688 threatens to severely impede the ability of parties in lawsuits to bring summary judgment motions to dismiss unmeritorious cases, and doubles the time period within which to file a lawsuit for personal injury from the current one-year period to two years, said Diane Colborn, vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs for PIFC. If enacted, the statute of limitations provisions are estimated to increase costs in California for private passenger auto insurance by as much as $200 million per year. The current one-year statute of limitations in California has been on the books for 97 years. There was absolutely no evidence presented by the trial lawyers or the author of SB 688 to substantiate any change, said Colborn.
According to Colborn, negative effects of SB 688 include:
• Summary Judgment Motions
As amended on Aug. 26, SB 688 would extend from 28 to 75 days the notice for a party (typically the defendant) to file a motion for summary judgment. Under current law, the party opposing a motion (typically the plaintiff) has 14 days to respond to a motion for summary judgment. The proposal would extend the plaintiff’s response time to 61 days, more than four times the length allowed under current law and far longer than the period in other major jurisdictions. Extending this period opens the door to attorney game-playing and, as the California Judicial Council has stated, is inconsistent with the timely disposition of cases required under the Trial Court Delay Reduction Act.
• Statute of Limitations Expansion
This change would double the time period within which to file a lawsuit for personal injury actions from the current one year to two years. According to PIFC, this change would have a major impact on the tort litigation system, giving personal injury lawyers a longer time to build up damages, inflate claims management costs, and increase insurance fraud. There has been no showing that the current one-year time limit is inadequate, and no objective study or cost benefit has been performed demonstrating that lengthening the time period is warranted or necessary. It will only lead to more stale claims be9ing litigate, prolonging of the claims settlement process and an increase in the number of fraudulent claims.
Another objectionable part of SB 688, according to the PIFC, is that trial lawyers injected 9/11 victims into the statute of limitations portion of the bill to help with the vote count of the committee. Two committee members saw through the ploy and asked why the 9/11 victims who may need two years extension on the statute of limitations could not be the single subject of the bill, and the merits of extending the statute of limitations to two years for all others injuries be studied further before being rushed through the Legislature in the waning days of session.
SB 688 will hurt consumers, taxpayers, people who enjoy government services, judges who are already overburdened—everyone but the lawyers who want it, said the PIFC. The statute of limitations bill should only address the 9/11 victims and raising the limitation to two years for all other personal injury claims should be studied next year before an action is made to change it.
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