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How Long Will It Take For My Case To Get To Trial?
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Each jurisdiction has different rules regarding the allotment of cases to the court's trial docket. However, it is the judge of the particular court in which the action is pending who has the final say as to when a case will be tried in his courtroom.
When a case must be litigated there is little chance for a speedy or quick recovery. The wheels of justice often turn at a snail's pace. There are many reasons for this slow outcome. Too many clients are quick to blame their lawyer for a system that sets the rules.
Most courts recognize that the majority of cases are settled before they are tried. Given this fact, courts must set many cases for trial on the same date. When one or more of those cases settle, the court can still try the remaining case and avoid losing a week of scheduled trials. Unfortunately, this means that some litigants must be turned away on their appointed day of trial because one of the older cases ahead of them did not settle.
Given the tremendous amount of cases which are being set for trial, as well as the court's own schedule, a new trial date may be many months away. Some courts try both criminal and civil cases and therefore have two dockets from which trials must be set. In those instances, the constitution requires the "speedy trial" of criminal cases. Thus, the civil cases get a lower priority.
Another factor influencing the length of the litigation process is that the defense gets paid by the hour. Obviously, the longer the case drags out, the more money they make. This is not to say that all defense lawyers intentionally "churn" the files for more hours, but the reality is that most do not focus on the case to the extent they should until a trial date is staring them in the face.
It would seem that the simple answer is to set a quick trial date at the outset of the litigation and the case would proceed very fast. This is true in federal court where a trial date is set at the beginning and the case proceeds within 15 months. In state courts however, many local rules prohibit attorneys from setting cases for trial until they certify that all the work on the case is completed.
They do this to avoid continuing the case because one side is not prepared to proceed to trial. Since the discovery process takes time, most cases in state court drag out far longer than cases in federal court.
Although most routine automobile cases can be resolved within 2-2 1/2 years from the date of filing, many which involve complex issues of liability, insurance coverage disputes or high dollar damages can last much longer.
Most jurisdictions allow the plaintiff who prevails to recover interest on the judgment from the time of the filing of the case. This is the supposed incentive to make the case settle earlier. In reality it is really not a factor or motivator for the defense to move faster.
When the testimony of expert witnesses like physicians, engineers, or safety experts is needed, the case will also proceed more slowly. Physicians are busy and will generally schedule depositions only on certain days of the month. Thus, the parties must wait to secure their testimony.
In sum, there are many factors which cause auto cases to be delayed in getting to trial. Although the lawyers can play a part in this delay, most of it is caused by the system. Keep in mind that most plaintiff's attorneys do not get their fee until the case concludes. Thus, they do not want the case to be delayed and have a strong incentive to move the case quickly.
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