Many new clients often ask me “how long will it take to resolve my case?” My answer is always “much longer than you think.” Unfortunately, the legal system doesn’t work like an episode of “Law & Order” where everything is wrapped up neatly in a very short period of time. It just doesn’t work that way. There are many reasons why it takes longer than you might expect.
If your case involves a physical injury, it is often important to wait until your injury resolves before filing a lawsuit or settling your claim. After all, you don’t want to settle too early and find out later that you need more medical treatment or that you were injured worse than you realized.
Another reason is that it takes a while to collect all of the evidence on your case. Some cases are relatively straightforward – a driver ran a red light and crashed into you. However, most are not that clear and there are often few eyewitnesses. As a result, we may have to hire an expert witness to do an investigation and figure out why the incident occurred.
One of the biggest reasons is that the court system moves very slowly. In some counties, your trial date is assigned when you file the lawsuit – but that trial date is a year and a half after the date when you file your lawsuit, regardless of whether your case is a relatively simple one that could be tried earlier or one that needs more time. In addition, the legal system has plenty of time limits on things that are longer than you would expect where the opposing party is permitted weeks, sometimes months, to answer our questions or give us information or documents that we request. Of course, those time limits apply to you, too, but that just makes the process longer.
Another reason for delay is that the opposing party, whether it was a corporation, an individual (with or without insurance), a governmental agency, or an insurance company, doesn’t want to pay you anything, ever. Even if they realize that they will eventually have to pay you something, they want to pay you as little as possible and they want to delay the payment as long as possible. For that reason, opposing parties (called “defendants”) will often refuse to respond promptly to requests for information, will seek continuances (delays) in trial dates, and will do whatever they can to avoid having to pay you quickly.
It is important for you to understand that your lawyer doesn’t always have control over how long your case will take and that it will always take much longer than you expect. However, your lawyer should be able to give you a description of the various steps involved in your case, how long those might take, and what their best estimate is of the entire length of the case. Just remember, this is just an estimate and things can occur that might change the timing. Either way, your lawyer should always keep you updated and let you know when important events occur on your case and how that might change the ultimate outcome and timing.