December 23, 2019
Your personal injury lawyer may decide to file a lawsuit soon after you hire a lawyer to represent you. That is most likely to happen if the deadline for filing suit (the statute of limitations) is quickly approaching. If the need to file a lawsuit is less urgent, your lawyer may want to investigate the facts and try to settle the case without filing a lawsuit. If your injuries are still healing, your lawyer might want to wait until the full extent of your injuries are known before filing suit.
Many cases can be settled without filing suit. When a lawsuit is filed, however, don’t expect a jury to decide your case within the next few weeks. The time it takes for a lawsuit to go to trial depends on many factors, and a certain amount of delay is built into the system.
Discovery Affects the Time It Takes to Bring a Lawsuit to Trial
Discovery is the process by which each party in a lawsuit learns about the evidence in the possession of the other party. Some discovery is conducted in writing. Depositions, however, consist of testimony that parties and witnesses give under oath in the presence of a court reporter. Depositions are often recorded on video.
In a personal injury case, the injury victim’s lawyer will want to take the deposition of the person who caused the victim’s injuries. The lawyer might also take depositions of other witnesses who have knowledge of key facts, particularly if those witnesses will not share their knowledge voluntarily.
The insurance company lawyer will want to take the accident victim’s deposition. The victim’s personal injury lawyer will spend as much time as necessary to prepare the victim to testify. The victim’s lawyer wants to be sure that the victim will not be surprised by the opposing lawyer’s questions. The victim’s lawyer does not want to be surprised by the victim’s answers.
Personal injury lawyers will often use the injury victim’s treating physician as a witness. The insurance company will typically take the doctor’s deposition. Both sides might decide to use other expert witnesses. If so, each party will want to depose the other party’s experts.
The process of conducting discovery typically takes at least six months. Written discovery usually, but not always, precedes depositions. Since lawyers and witnesses need to coordinate their schedules, it takes some time before discovery is complete. Expert witnesses can be particularly difficult to schedule since doctors and other experts have busy professional lives.
Congested Court Calendars Affect the Time It Takes to Bring a Lawsuit to Trial
To some extent, lawyers are at the mercy of busy judges. Some courts are busier than others, but most courts have crowded trial calendars. Even when the lawyers are ready to bring a case to trial, judges may not be able to schedule the trial until a few months after discovery ends.
In some cases, insurance companies will bring motions seeking to end the case without a trial. Motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment challenge whether the injury victim’s theory of liability is viable and whether the facts would permit a jury to find in the victim’s favor. Judges schedule trials sufficiently in advance to give themselves ample time to rule on those motions.
Even if discovery is completed within six months, the case might not go to trial until a year or more after the accident. Unfortunately, lawyers have little control over the time it will take a court to schedule a case for trial. Sometimes judges reschedule cases because they are required to give a higher priority to certain kinds of trials.
Fortunately, most lawsuits settle after discovery and before trial. Since there are many factors affecting the timeline of a lawsuit, it is difficult to predict how much time will be needed to resolve any particular case, whether by settlement or jury verdict.