(This post is a continuation of my last one. In it, I explained why it is not always necessary for an injury victim to file an injury lawsuit. I further explained that, when necessary, an injury lawsuit is often not filed until at least a year after an accident. That is in order to allow the victim’s injuries to heal first. That way, your personal injury lawyer will know whether there will be any permanent damage, and can ask for appropriate compensation.)
Once your lawyer files an injury lawsuit, the court case will typically take one to two years to resolve. It takes this long because of the procedures set forth in the court rules.
For example, each party generally must answer interrogatories (written questions), sit for a deposition (out-of-court testimony), and turn over any pertinent documents for review by the other side. Either side can file court motions asking the judge to take certain action, such as to dismiss all or part of the other side’s case as legally unsound. Voluminous, written legal “briefs” have to be written by the lawyers in support of such motions.
Each side will also typically hire expert witnesses, who must write reports and sit for depositions. The most common example of an expert witness in a personal injury case is a doctor. For example, a doctor who will testify as to the severity of the victim’s injuries.
All of the above takes much preparation time. Additionally, for items that require in-person appearances, such as depositions, there is the difficulty in scheduling a time that is acceptable to all the attorneys, experts and clients involved.
IT TAKES AT LEAST A YEAR FOR AN INJURY LAWSUIT TO REACH TRIAL
Accordingly, from the time your lawyer files suit, it usually takes at least another year, often longer, before the court clerk can first schedule an injury lawsuit for a trial. As in the case of pretrial proceedings, scheduling conflicts may arise. Therefore, a trial does not usually take place on the first date that the clerk selects. Typically, the judge will adjourn the trial at least once or twice before an acceptable date is achieved. Because of the court’s busy schedule, two months or more can easily elapse between such adjournments.
Keep in mind that, just because your attorney files an injury lawsuit, does not mean that your case will actually go to trial. Statistically, the vast majority of cases settle before a trial takes place.
If your injuries take more than two years to heal, your lawyer still must file suit within two years. That’s because, generally, the deadline to file a personal injury lawsuit in New Jersey is two years from the accident. (There are exceptions. For example, the deadline can be longer in a case where the victim had no way of knowing within two years that he suffered an injury. This exception often applies in medical malpractice and toxic exposure cases. And some cases require additional paperwork to be prepared well before an injury lawsuit is filed, as soon as 90 days following an accident.) Other states have different deadlines to file an injury lawsuit, which may be different than two years.
Thus, while the duration varies in any individual case, injury claims generally take one to four years to resolve from the accident date, because of the considerations and mandatory court procedures that I describe above.