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Many people wonder why a lawsuit takes so long to resolve. There are various reasons for this, including court congestion and overworked and understaffed law firms. But, one of the biggest reasons is perhaps the immense amount of work that goes into completing the necessary steps to conclude a case.
Prior to starting a lawsuit, there should be a thorough investigation of the facts. This will include gathering all information from the investigating police agency, such as a police accident report and witness statements. If the accident was severe, the police may have inspected all vehicles involved, taken photographs and mapped the scene. The map may contain valuable information such as skid marks and debris from the vehicle. This investigative information should always be obtained prior to starting a lawsuit.
Next, a thoroughly prepared attorney may want to hire their own accident investigator to review the police work, visit the scene to obtain measurements and conduct witness interviews.
The investigation of the case should also include gathering all relevant medical records from all treating providers and any past records that may relate to the same parts of the body injured in this case. This information may need to be discussed with a physician hired by the plaintiff.
Once the investigation is complete it is time to draft the Summons and Complaint. These are the documents that initiate the lawsuit once filed and served upon the defendants. The Summons and Complaint is a broad list of allegations detailing the reasons you believe the other party is responsible for your injuries and should have to pay for your damages.
Once this document is served upon the defendant, they must forward it to their insurance carrier, who will hire a law firm to represent the insured. Some insurance carriers will assign in-house counsel to represent their insured. Others will hire outside firms. Either way, the defendant has 30 days to serve an Answer to the Complaint. An Answer is a formal response to every allegation in the Complaint. The Answer will either deny, admit, or deny having enough information to answer an allegation.
Once an Answer is interposed, the parties will begin discovery in the case. Discovery in the case is usually overseen by the Court. Therefore, one party will need to request judicial intervention. That is a fancy phrase for requesting a conference with a judge. At that conference, the judge will set up a formal discovery schedule. He will also set up a return date known as a Compliance Conference, at which time it will be expected that discovery is complete.
Discovery entails exchanging all accident reports, witness names, expert witness names with their reports, insurance information, medical reports, depositions and physical exams of the plaintiff. Once complete, the judge will sign a certification order stating all discovery is complete. They will then shift the case to the trial assignment part.
From the filing of the Summons and Complaint until completing discovery it can usually take anywhere from one to two years. Once a case is transferred to the trial assignment court it will await its turn for an available judge to hear the case. This process can take up to six months to a year due to the vast amounts of cases in the system. Once a trial date is assigned the case will proceed to trial. A trial can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks depending on the complexity of the case.
A trial entails opening statements, presentation of evidence, closing statements, instructions to the jury, deliberation, and a verdict. A case can be settled at any time during the process from the time the lawsuit is filed up to the time the jury returns a verdict.
Often, people get frustrated with the court system because of the length of time it takes to resolve a case. While the process is long and complicated, it is the best way I know of to resolve disputes peacefully.