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Recent Case Law Threatens Right to 'Trial Preference' for Elderly and Seriously Ill Plaintiffs

The California Code of Civil Procedure Section 36 (CCP 36) has long been an important statute for plaintiffs seeking an expedited trial timeline, especially those over the age of 70 or suffering from severe health issues. Typically, these plaintiffs can file a motion for trial preference under CCP 36, which mandates that their trial be set within 120 days. This mechanism has traditionally been vital in ensuring that qualifying plaintiffs can have their cases heard swiftly.

However, the landscape shifted recently with a landmark Court of Appeal decision in Isaak et al. v. Superior Court of Contra Costa County. The case centered around a Judicial Council Coordinated Proceeding (JCCP) involving plaintiffs alleging they developed Parkinson's disease due to exposure to the chemical paraquat. In this case, one of the plaintiffs invoked CCP 36, requesting an accelerated 120-day trial timeline citing his advanced age and declining health. Both the trial court and the appellate court denied this request.

The decision has significant implications for the application of CCP 36, particularly for plaintiffs involved in JCCPs. The appellate court held that coordination judges have the discretion to manage these complex, multi-party proceedings as they deem fit, which may include bypassing the fast-track provisions usually mandated by CCP 36. The ruling sets a precedent that could affect the expedited trial timelines that plaintiffs have traditionally relied upon, especially those in delicate health situations or advanced in age.

This adjustment in the legal landscape reinforces the need for highly skilled legal representation, particularly for plaintiffs involved in intricate legal proceedings such as JCCPs. Skilled attorneys are essential in navigating the complexities of both CCP 36 and JCCP rules and can strategize for the most favorable outcome for their clients.

In summary, the Isaak decision marks a pivotal change for plaintiffs who might have otherwise relied on CCP 36 to fast-track their cases to trial. While this development presents new challenges, it also serves as a reminder of the critical role experienced legal counsel plays in navigating the legal system in California. Anyone involved in complex litigation should consult an experienced attorney to better understand the implications for their specific case.


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