What is Michigan Case Evaluation?
Michigan case evaluation is a form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). ADR has become an increasingly popular tool utilized by courts throughout the country to resolve and settle personal injury disputes. The Michigan Court Rules (MCR) define ADR as “any process designed to resolve a legal dispute in the place of court adjudication.” MCR. 2.410(A)(2). These processes can include judge controlled settlement conference and facilitation.
However, in Michigan case evaluation is the most popular and the most notorious.
How Case Evaluation Works:
Case evaluation is mandatory in all Michigan tort cases. As a result, it is utilized in just about all Michigan personal injury cases.
While discovery is occurring during a lawsuit, the district or circuit court where the case is pending will mail a notice of case evaluation to all named parties. This occurs at least 42 days before the hearing. The notice of case evaluation will appraise the parties of the time and date of the hearing, the location of the hearing, and sometimes the names of the case evaluators who will evaluate the case.
Each party will submit a case evaluation brief or summary. A summary of the case with supporting documentation is submitted by each party to the mediation tribunal within 14 days of the case evaluation hearing. The summaries usually contain a statement about how the incident occurred, the plaintiff’s medical treatment, and legal reasoning for why the plaintiff is entitled or not entitled to compensation.
Case evaluation does include fees. Each party must pay $75 to the ADR office for the benefit of the evaluators.
The panel that hears the case evaluation consists of three attorneys. In theory, the panel is supposed to consist of a plaintiff attorney, a defense attorney and a neutral attorney who has practiced on both the plaintiff and defense side during his or her legal career. Evaluators are assigned to cases randomly, but may be on sublists compiled by local ADR offices. The panel will receive and review the case evaluation summaries in advance of the hearing date.
Because case evaluation is a tool for settlement, nothing said or used in the case evaluation process, including statements made during the case evaluation hearing, are admissible in court. As such, it provides attorneys an opportunity to be candid about their respective case.
A case evaluation hearing is rather straightforward. Typically, the plaintiff begins and gives the panel a brief background of the case. The plaintiff will highlight his or her client’s injuries, medical treatment and why their client is entitled compensation. The plaintiff attorney will utilize the exhibits provided in his or her brief to help establish the claim. After the plaintiff concludes, the defendant will then put forward its reasoning for why the plaintiff is not entitled to the compensation he or she seeks. During the entire hearing process, which usually lasts between 15-30 minutes, the panel will ask questions to the attorneys.
The individual plaintiff or defendant almost never attends the case evaluation hearing. Under the Michigan Court rules, if a party does attend the hearing, absolutely no testimony may be permitted by any party.
Within 14 days after the hearing, the panel will make an evaluation and notify the attorney for each party of the evaluation award. In reality, the evaluation award is almost always made on the hearing date itself, immediately after the parties have concluded their arguments and discussion. The award is then distributed to the lawyers present for the case evaluation hearing.
Within 28 days of the panel’s award, the parties must file a written acceptance or rejection of the panel’s evaluation with the ADR clerk. The parties do not hear about the other party’s decision until after the 28-day period expires. If both sides accept the case evaluation award, the case settles for that amount.
Case Evaluation Sanctions:
Most cases do not settle at case evaluation because one side rejected the case evaluation panel’s award. In fact, only approximately 15% of cases settle from both sides accepting the case evaluation award. In many jurisdictions, that number is even smaller.
But there are potential repercussions for rejecting the case evaluation panel’s award. Under MCR 2.403(O)(1), if a party has rejected a case evaluation and the action proceeds to verdict, that party must pay the opposing party’s actual costs unless the verdict is more favorable to the rejecting party than the case evaluation.
Under the rules, the verdict is considered more favorable to a defendant if it is more than 10 percent below the evaluation, and is considered more favorable to the plaintiff if it is more than 10 percent above the evaluation.
In essence, this means if a plaintiff rejects an evaluation and a jury issues a verdict, the plaintiff must pay the other party’s actual costs if it doesn’t beat the case evaluation number by 10%. These costs, commonly known as case evaluation sanctions, can include attorney fees, deposition costs, filing fees and expert fees.
Case evaluation sanctions cannot be awarded in a case when the panel’s award is not unanimous. This means if one of the three members of the panel does not sign off on the award given by the panel, the award is not unanimous and the case is not subject to case evaluation sanctions. Non-unanimous case evaluation awards are rare.
Case evaluation sanctions can be extremely expensive and add up to tens of thousands of dollars. As such, many individual plaintiffs are forced to accept less than adequate case evaluation awards out of fear of being subject to so-called case evaluation sanctions if they lose their case at trial. On the other hand, deep pocketed insurance companies have no such worry, and reject most case evaluation awards to maintain negotiation leverage and to force the plaintiff’s hand in settlement.
Case evaluation is an important part of every Michigan personal injury case. If you have any questions about case evaluation, please contact your lawyer and make sure you understand the process. The Michigan car accident lawyers at the Lee Steinberg Law Firm, P.C. have been representing Michigan car accident victims for decades. We have obtained hundreds of millions of dollars in awards for our clients and fight each and every day to ensure they get top compensation.