Personal Injury

If I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit, When Will It Go to Trial?

By David Berg, Attorney
A look at the key factors that will influence the timeline of your personal injury lawsuit, including the potential trial date.

The short answer is that it depends primarily on what state and what court your personal injury lawsuit is filed in, what kind of personal injury case you have, and whether there are any difficulties or problems in the discovery process. For the long answer, read on.

Where is Your Lawsuit Being Heard?

Where your personal injury lawsuit was filed is really important because some courts stick to what is known as a "rocket docket," where lawsuits are processed quickly, perhaps more quickly than the lawyers would really prefer. Even when handling the most complex of personal injury case, lawyers really have to hit the ground running in these courts.

In a "rocket docket" court, the lawsuit will generally get to trial about nine months after the lawsuit is filed. That's basically lightspeed by lawsuit standards. That means, in those nine months, the lawyers have to:

  • send written discovery (interrogatories and requests for production of documents) to one another
  • take the opposing parties' depositions
  • depose all key witnesses
  • produce expert reports
  • depose experts
  • file pretrial motions
  • go to court and argue the pretrial motions
  • negotiate a possible settlement, and
  • decide on their trial strategy (all while balancing the rest of their cases, some of which are probably also in suit in a rocket docket court).

It's easy to see that lawyers who practice in a rocket docket state are busy! Judges in those states don’t want to hear excuses about why a lawyer is missing discovery deadlines or isn’t ready for trial. The trial dates in those courts are as set in stone as any trial date can be.

This is all good news for the client. In general, a personal injury client wants to get the case processed as quickly as possible. That means, once the lawsuit is filed, the client (and their lawyer) wants to get to trial (or settle the case) as quickly as possible.

Conversely, defense attorneys and insurance companies like to drag things out where possible. They believe that the longer the claimant has to wait before getting a real settlement offer, the more likely it is they might choose to accept a lowball offer just to get the case over with.

On the other hand, some states and some courts are really known for processing cases slowly. This can be due to court culture, i.e., because cases have always moved slowly, they still move slowly today. Or the court might be insufficiently staffed. There simply aren’t enough judges and clerks to move cases quickly. But whatever the reason, in some states it can take two or even three years for a personal injury lawsuit to get to trial.

Why Type of Case Matters

In some states, injury-related cases that are notoriously complex (medical malpractice and product liability cases, for example) are assigned a longer discovery process (and therefore a longer overall case timeline, including trial date) than those for more basic injury cases, such as those arising from a slip and fall or car accident.

Discovery Delays = Trial Delays

And in any court (even a rocket docket court) problems in the discovery process can delay trial. If, for example, the defendant consistently refuses to produce documents that your lawyer has requested, that can slow discovery down to a crawl. Your lawyer might have to file a motion to extend the discovery deadline to get the necessary documents (although in a rocket docket court, any extension of the discovery process will be a very short extension). Of course, this might be exactly what the defense attorney wants: to slow down the process and drag things out.

In order to learn more about whether the courts in your state move cases quickly or slowly, you should ask your lawyer how quickly cases tend to proceed in your state, and what the local court's reputation is in terms of expediting the lawsuit timeline.

More: Will My Personal Injury Trial Be Postponed?

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