There comes a point in some personal injury cases where you will either need to threaten a lawsuit or follow through and file a case in civil court. Before we go down this path, our clients often want to know how long this will take. The unfortunate answer is that going all the way to trial can take a long time. The good news is that most cases will not go to trial and so end quicker. Nonetheless, keep your expectations reasonable when you are talking about a timeframe for litigation.
The Legal Process Takes Time to Unfold
The legal process for a civil claim does not move quickly. Your case is one of thousands in the court system, so prepare for things to take time. The court calendar will build in time for each step of the process, and each party will get their time to make their filings and respond. However, when the court sets a deadline, you must strictly follow it.
The Different Steps in the Personal Injury Lawsuit Process
To understand timing, you must be familiar with the different steps in the lawsuit process. Your court case begins when you file your complaint with the court and serve it on the other party. The court will docket the case. Immediately, this gives the defendant a deadline to file an answer to your complaint that addresses each of your factual allegations. Then, you may file an amended complaint as you learn more information.
Then, you can expect that the defendant will try to have your lawsuit dismissed. They will almost always file a motion to dismiss in every lawsuit. As long as they have good-faith grounds, they have little downside. You get the opportunity to respond to their motion to dismiss, and the judge will consider the matter. At some point, the judge will write a decision explaining why they granted or denied that motion.
If the judge denies the motion to dismiss, the defendant may try to discuss settlement. They have little incentive to do so before that. Depending on their risk management strategy, they may even make a reasonable offer at that point.
Discovery Can Take a Time
Many cases will go to a process called discovery. Discovery can take a long time, and it is often the most detailed part of the case. Each party will get to make requests of the other to obtain evidence that they can use in their case.
As you can imagine, discovery is not always a smooth process. The parties will often see things very differently. The same information that one party needs and wants, the other party does not want to produce. You can count on the parties having numerous disputes that will need to go to the judge for resolution.
Settlement Talk May Happen After Discovery
After the completion of discovery, the judge will usually set a trial schedule. At this point, the parties will get very serious about settling the case. As the plaintiff, you may be worried about the risk of coming away with nothing. The defendant often does not want to face the jury because a verdict could cost them far more than the monetary hit they would take from settling the case. If the case has not already settled, it may at this point. After discovery, the parties both have an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of their position.
The ironic thing is that the trial is usually the part of your case that moves the quickest. The judge will allow each side a set amount of time to present their case to the jury. It could be over in as little as a few days. Only the biggest cases will have trials that stretch on for more than several weeks. After the trial, the jury will reach their verdict. Then, either side could appeal the case depending on the verdict. If you win your case and receive a large verdict, you can count on an appeal. An appeal could add even more time to your case because you will not get the check until the appeal process is over. You cannot take action on a judgment so long as there is an appeal pending.
You Can Be Aggressive but Patient as Well
Now that you understand the basic steps, you might be wondering how long all of this takes. It depends on the state and how busy the court is, but you can count on litigation taking months or even more than a year before a settlement or trial occurs. Each case is different, and you should prepare yourself to wait for the right settlement offer or award in your case.
Usually, you are only filing a lawsuit because you could not settle with the insurance company, and many cases do not even make it to this process. Sometimes, hiring an aggressive personal injury lawyer is the best way to show the insurance company that you are serious. They may think twice about trying to push you around during the initial claim process because they do not want to go through litigation or prepare for a trial. Thus, an aggressive attorney could shorten the timeframe for you to receive compensation.
The important thing is to be patient and let the legal process play out fully. A personal injury lawyer fully understands why their client focuses on timing because of their often mounting financial concerns. However, the insurance company also knows that you are in a bind, and they are using that knowledge to try to cut your potential payout. You should always try to live by the old adage, “Never let them see you sweat.” In many cases, your settlement check directly relates to the amount of patience you showed during the legal process.