Even the simplest lawsuit can take up to one year to resolve. The reasons for the slow pace of the litigation process are many.
Service of the Complaint: Once the plaintiff’s complaint is filed, it must be served on the defendant. Sometimes, the defendant tries to avoid being served with the complaint, by hiding from the process servers.
The Defendant’s Response or Answer: Once the defendant is personally served, he has at least 30 days to file a response to the complaint.
Written Discovery: After the defendant responds to the complaint, then the plaintiff and defendant engage in written discovery. Each side has an opportunity to send written questions to one another designed to obtain information about the plaintiff’s claims and the defendant’s defenses to those claims. This process typically lasts upward of four months.
Depositions: During this stage of the process, called discovery, the plaintiff and defendant have the right to take depositions of people who are witnesses to the acts about which the plaintiff has complained. In an automobile accident case, for example, the drivers will have their depositions taken, as will anyone who witnessed the accident. The length of this stage of the process depends on the number of witnesses.
Expert Discovery: In many cases, each side retains experts to assist in proving or disproving plaintiff’s claims, such as doctors, accident reconstruction engineers and economists. The experts perform their analysis of the case and then their depositions are taken. This expert discovery usually does not even begin until after all of the above tasks are completed.
Arbitration or Mediation: In many cases the plaintiff and defendant agree to seek the assistance of trained arbitrators or mediators to help resolve the case before trial. This Alternative Dispute Resolution (“ADR”) process can be very productive. The court often orders the plaintiff and defendant to engage in ADR.
Trial: If the plaintiff and defendant do not agree to settle the lawsuit, the case proceeds to trial. The court sets a trial date, usually within one year of the date the lawsuit was filed, but, in complex cases, the trial may not be scheduled until up to two years after the complaint was filed. If the court’s calendar is full, the court will extend the date for trial, sometimes for several months after the original trial date.