It seems so simple. You are in an accident that wasn’t your fault. You are injured and a claim is made. If the claim cannot be settled, a lawsuit will need to be filed in court. Your lawyer is telling you that it can take at least a year or two for your case to go to trial. Why? On television, cases seem to go to trial within a few weeks or months of the incident, and the trial seems to take 10 minutes. In reality, things are quite different.
The Lead Up To Trial
Many things have to happen before a case can go to trial. The lead up phase before trial is called the “discovery” phase, because it is a time during which each side gets to discover the evidence the other side has to support the claims it will present at trial. Discovery is usually broken down into two parts. The first part is paper discovery, where each side has an opportunity to obtain written documents that are relevant to the claims and defenses in the case. The second part to the discovery process is where each side gets to take sworn statements from witnesses. In some states, these sworn statements are called depositions, while in other states they are called examinations before trial.
The discovery process requires time. Subpoenas need to be issued, records need to be obtained and schedules need to be coordinated for the statements of witnesses. In addition, it is very common for one side or the other to raise objections to things done by the other side during the discovery process. These objections may require a ruling from the judge before the discovery process can move forward, and in many jurisdictions it is difficult to get hearing time from a judge because the courts are backlogged with cases. In some jurisdictions the judges are so busy that it can easily take 3 to 4 months to get a hearing date with the judge. And oftentimes, there are multiple objections that are raised during the discovery phase that each need to be addressed by a judge at separate hearings.
Setting The Case For Trial
At some point, the case can be set for trial. The rules in most states do not allow the case to be set for trial right after the lawsuit is filed. This is because each side is given time to go through the discovery phase. In some jurisdictions, the court will automatically set the case for trial, but in other jurisdictions a lawyer, like a personal injury lawyer, has to request that the court set the case for trial. In either event, the trial date will usually be months down the road from the time the court issues an order setting the case for trial. Again, the court wants to give each side enough time to complete discovery and have any pretrial motions that are filed heard by the court. Furthermore, the courts are so busy in most jurisdictions that when the court finally sets the case for trial, there are already a number of older cases that have been set for trial. Unfortunately, not much can be done to move a case ahead of the older cases that are also waiting to go to trial. In some states, if you are a senior citizen and in poor health, the court can give your case priority in getting it to trial over other cases where such circumstances do not exist.
Keep in mind that the delay in getting a case to trial is usually not the fault of the lawyer representing the injury victim. These lawyers only get paid if the case settles or there is a win at trial, so usually the lawyer is doing everything in their power to get the case to trial. Unfortunately, because of the reasons discussed above, getting a case to trial quickly can be very challenging.