Our district court clients often have questions about how long it will take for their cases to conclude. The real answer is always “it depends.” It depends on whether the insurance company offers a reasonable settlement and when; it depends on how congested the court’s docket is; it depends on the schedule of the parties, the lawyers, and the witnesses; it depends on how easy (or difficult) it is to locate and serve the defendants.
However, we can give some general guidance. Your case may vary, of course, but the process is usually this:
The first date at which to calculate the time to get to trial is from the time that we decide to file a complaint in the courthouse. We might file a number of reasons:
- The insurance company tells us that they will not make an offer because they think that their driver did not cause the accident
- The insurance company tells us that they will not make an offer because they think you were the sole cause of the accident
- The insurance company tells us that they will not make an offer because, even though their driver was at fault, you were also at fault (called contributory negligence)
- The insurance company, even if they accept that their driver caused the accident, tells us that they will not make an offer because they think your injuries were not related to the accident (this sometimes happens in cases where the damage to the vehicles was low—particularly where GEICO represents the at-fault driver)
- The insurance company will not agree to your demand—that is, we can’t agree on a settlement number
When any of these things happens, it’s time to file a lawsuit. If your case has a total value (including medical bills, lost wages, pain & suffering damages, and attorneys’ fees and legal expenses) of $30,000 or less, it gets filed in one of the state’s District Courts.
Your lawyer will prepare a complaint and other supporting case documents (interrogatories, formal list of medical bills and records, certification to compel disclosure of the defendant’s last known address, for example), and will file them with the appropriate court. That process can happen immediately, or it might take a few months if the lawyer needs more information or his workload is too high at that moment to allow for immediate filing.
Once it is filed, the court will issue summonses fairly quickly. Those are documents which get served (by private process server or certified mail, typically) on the defendants—the people who are sued. Sometimes this is an easy process—it might happen days or weeks after the summonses are issued. Sometimes, however, it could take months. The defendants might have moved, and the address from the police report or exchange of information might be out of date. Or, the defendant could be evading service—refusing to sign for certified mail, and dodging the private process server.
If service can’t be made by conventional means, your lawyer will ask the Court for permission to serve the defendant through other means. A motion for alternative service often asks the court to allow the Plaintiff (that’s you) to send those papers to the defendant using another process—often by sending copies to the defendant’s insurance company. The court will then assume that service was complete, and the case can move forward.