Approximately a year ago Delaware Asbestos Judge John A. Parkins, Jr. asked the asbestos bar to recommend a revised Standing Order No. 1 (pdf download) and General Scheduling Order (pdf download) (“GSO”) to govern the ten asbestos trial settings in Delaware each year. The endeavor was led by the ADR Master, David A. White, and then Judge Joseph R. Slights, III, who is now a practicing lawyer in Wilmington. Judge Slights previously presided over the asbestos docket. A year of negotiations led to joint proposed orders. After a few minor changes, the Court issued the new orders earlier this month. Transitioning to the new orders is still a work in progress, but it appears they will take full effect starting with cases scheduled for trial in February 2015. Here are the Top 5 Changes you should know:
- The new standing order streamlines deadlines, while expanding the number of days in the GSO for most cases and providing an expedited track for exigent cases. The new GSO has only 24 deadlines compared to 60 deadlines in the old GSO. Unnecessary deadlines were removed and others were combined to allow for the more efficient processing of cases. Under the prior GSO, discovery and pretrial took place over a 360 day schedule. Now non-exigent cases will have a 420 day track and exigent cases, in which Plaintiffs provide certain discovery in advance of docketing for trial, can use “a spur” to jump into the GSO 320 days from trial.
- New Standing Order No. 1 updates plaintiffs’ production requirements regarding claims forms. Within 60 days of filing a complaint, plaintiffs must produce copies of all claims forms and all related materials. In addition to bankruptcy trust proof of claims forms, plaintiffs must also produce applications for Social Security benefits, worker’s compensation benefits, military service benefits, and disability benefits. Plaintiffs have an obligation to supplement these records up to the time of trial. The new order expands plaintiffs’ production requirements and makes clear their ongoing obligation to produce these documents.
- The new GSO requires that the parties complete summary judgment fact discovery prior to the drafting of motions for summary judgment. Practically speaking, the major change provided in this provision is that it allows plaintiffs an opportunity prior to motions for summary judgment to depose witnesses on which defendants plan to rely for those motions. This provision should provide a more complete factual record for motions for summary judgment.
- For the second time in his tenure as Asbestos Judge, Judge Parkins moved summary judgment oral arguments earlier in the process. Shortly after assuming the docket, he moved oral arguments from 30 days prior to trial to 60 days. The goal was to give the Court time to rule on motions taken under advisement and the parties time to resolve claims prior to trial. The new GSO calls for oral argument 100 days prior to trial. The new oral argument date further accomplishes the Court’s goals discussed above and allows for motions to be heard prior to expert discovery, thus reducing transactional costs for all parties.
- The new GSO requires the parties be more prepared for trial at the pretrial conference which takes place 5 days before trial. This provision is one of the few changes the Court made to the bar’s proposed order. By the pretrial conference, the parties must now have completed all video depositions and provide proposed jury instructions and proposed verdict sheets. The Court also now requires that all depositions read to the jury or played by video must be “reasonable” in length. The Court further provided templates for the Court’s approved format for the Joint Pretrial Memorandum (pdf download) and Jury Screening Questionnaire (pdf download).