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SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Supreme Court has amended the rules for how civil lawsuits are filed. The new rules are designed to allow more people access to Utah courts by lowering the cost of bringing a lawsuit and having it defended.
"The whole goal of these rules is to open the courthouse broader to the everyday person who has some kind of dispute in the state," said Lincoln Davies, associate professor of law at the University of Utah SJ Quinney College of Law.
Davies served on a committee that came up with the recommended changes.
"We've been working on this for several years now," he said. "We looked at all of the rules that govern from the beginning of lawsuits until the end."
Davies said the concern was that Utahns weren't having their "day in court" mainly because they couldn't afford attorneys.
We asked, ‘Could we afford to hire each other to handle a lawsuit if we needed to?' Most of us said, ‘No.'
"We looked around the room and asked each other, ‘Could we afford to hire each other to handle a lawsuit if we needed to?'" said Davies. "Most of us said, ‘No.'"
In the past, the rules encouraged what Davies described as a Cadillac process for all lawsuits -- that is, all cases were treated the same. The committee decided that wasn't necessary.
"Not all cases are Cadillac cases," said Davies. "We also have Yugo cases, BMW cases, and we have Toyota cases."
In other words, each case should be given the time and cost proportional to the alleged amount of damages.
For people disputing smaller amounts of money, there's small claims court. But Davies said those fighting a more significant civil lawsuit couldn't afford to go through the legal process of discovery, in which litigants receive information from the party being sued. Davies said the process was time consuming and therefore became expensive.
"The rules that we proposed tackle primarily that problem and try to reduce the cost of discovery in a case," said Davies.
Lawsuits filed on or after November 1, 2011 are subject to the new rules, which place cases in three tiers according to the dollar amount sought in the case.
Not all cases are Cadillac cases. We also have Yugo cases, BMW cases, and we have Toyota cases.
"So if you have a lawsuit that's worth less than $50,000, you're in tier one," said Davies. "And the tiers go up by the amount that might be in dispute and how much discovery you get."
Davies explained that this is significant because if you have a small lawsuit, the new rules would stipulate how much time you can spend on the case. This mainly helps protect lawyers from malpractice lawsuits because they were concerned about collecting every possible bit of information for their clients.
"So now they don't have to feel like they have to do everything if it's a case that doesn't really demand that" said Davies.