Justice is said to be blind but no one ever said it was fast. While cases on television are resolved from incident to trial verdict in an hour, with time out for commercials, such speed is not true in real life.
So why does litigation take so long?
The Court Calendar
Courts are busy places and there are only so many days available for the court to hear cases. A judge’s calendar fills up quickly. Civil court trials take longer and are typically set for trial a year or 18 months after being filed. Criminal trials are set sooner since the defendant has a right to a speedy trial.
The process of a lawsuit takes time
There are procedural rules that govern the process of the lawsuit and each step takes time. Once the lawsuit is filed and served on the opposing party, the defendant then has 20 to 30 days to answer the complaint.
Even courts that have been designed to streamline the process of litigation, such as the Michigan Business Courts, still take a long time by most people’s standards.
Each stage of litigation adds to the length and complexity of the process.
Discovery or Evidence Gathering
After the defendant answers the complaint, the parties start the discovery process. Each side sends questions to be answered under oath and asks for the production of necessary documents. The parties have 20 to 30 days to answer and produce the documents. The judge can set a time limit on discovery, generally giving the parties 3 to 6 months to complete the process.
Sometimes there are discovery disputes that must be resolved by the court. If this occurs, a motion is filed, a court date is set and the judge decides the matter after a hearing. Such motions and hearings can lengthen the process.
Once the parties have all the documents, depositions are scheduled. A depositions is an out-of-court meeting where a witness or expert provides testimony under oath. Depending on the number of witnesses and experts being deposed, this process can take between 2 to 4 months to complete.
Mediation and Arbitration
The vast majority (about 90%) of civil lawsuits are settled without going to trial. The process used to reach a settlement varies from state to state. In Michigan, for example, 8-9 months after the lawsuit is filed, a case evaluation or mediation conference is held. In case evaluation, for example, each party presents their case, an award is determined by the panel of lawyers hearing the case. The parties have 28 days to accept or reject the award. If both parties accept the award, the matter is settled. If not, a settlement conference with the judge may be set, where the judge will discuss the sticking points.
If a case is not resolved via case evaluation or mediation, it may end up in arbitration, which is a binding method to resolve disputes outside of court. While arbitration often replaces traditional litigation, it can easily be just as complicated and time-consuming. If the case does not go to arbitration, traditional litigation will ensue.
The process of getting to trial is also time consuming. Often a hearing or conference is held to discuss pre-trial concerns including determining the evidence that will be agreed to and that which will be contested. These pre-trial procedures can take a long time depending on the judge’s calendar, but eventually a final trial date is set. A civil trial can last a few hours to several weeks, depending on the issues being litigated.
Verdict and Judgment
After the verdict, there can be appeals to a higher court, if one party is not satisfied.
The lengthy process of a civil suit is designed to help the litigants find the truth and reach a fair decision. Thus, it is almost impossible to get to trial in less than a year. Lawyers are not typically the reason cases take so long to resolve. They are merely working within a long-established system.
While it is important to move as quickly as procedures allow when handling lawsuits, what us more important is making sure that your case is competently prepared for trial.
The lawyers at The Miller Law Firm are experienced trial attorneys and are proficient in representing both plaintiffs and defendants.