Is the Jury’s Attention Spam No Longer than One Commercial Break? Ten-Minute Limit on Opening Statements

From Faulman v. Security Mut. Fin. Life Ins. Co., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71227 (D.N.J. Sept. 12, 2008), on plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial:

Plaintiffs argue that the Court's decision, after jury selection, to impose a ten-minute limitation on the parties' opening statements, on the basis that "jurors cannot absorb a long speech" (Trial Tr. (sidebar) 5, 6, May 19, 2008), prejudiced Plaintiffs because it "impaired [their] ability to provide the jury with an adequate 'roadmap' of the evidence that would be presented and its significance." ... However, Plaintiffs acknowledge that "trial judges have the inherent authority to control the proceedings before them by setting reasonable time limits for trials." ***

Plaintiffs rely on the Third Circuit's decision in Duquesne Light Co. v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 66 F.3d 604, 609-10 (3d Cir. 1995) for their argument that the Court acted unreasonably in imposing a time limit only on the parties' opening statements, and that the Court should have instead permitted Plaintiffs to control the presentation of the factual and legal issues of their case. There, the district court, in the middle of trial, reversed an earlier pre-trial decision to allot each side 140 hours, and accorded each side 22 days each to present its case. The plaintiff in that action was already 11 days into the presentation of its case when the court made the decision. ....

Here, in contrast, the Court informed the parties of the time limit before trial began, thus avoiding the change in course that occurred in the middle of the Duquesne trial. *** Although Plaintiffs contend that the Court's "concern about the attention span of the jurors was unfounded" (Pls.' Br. 5), the Third Circuit has recognized that "a court's resources are finite and a court must dispose of much litigation," and that time limits may increase the efficiency of trials. Duquesne, 66 F.3d at 609-10. Defendant's opening statement was also limited to ten minutes. Plaintiffs argue vaguely that the time limit impeded their ability to present a roadmap of their evidence, but do not demonstrate how their case was adversely affected by the shorter opening statement. Thus, the Court does not find that its decision to limit both sides to ten minutes for their opening statements constitutes a substantial error that requires a new trial.

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