How Long Does It Take For A Personal Injury Case To Go To Trial?
The answer to these commonly asked questions depends on whether you are a participant in a civil or a criminal matter. In either scenario, the anxiety that goes along with waiting for one's day in court is perfectly understandable. If one is a defendant in a criminal case the uncertainty and stress surrounding an impending determination of guilt or innocence is a feeling that anyone could understand- even if they have not been in that situation themselves. An equal level of turmoil can be experienced by a defendant in a civil case facing a determination of responsibility or exoneration, and any corresponding financial consequences.
The same holds true for those who may have been injured and caused to sustain enormous damage in the form of wages lost, or bills and expenses incurred.
The wait for a day in court, and a corresponding determination of what, if anything, they are entitled to recover for the suffering and losses they have endured can be a frustrating and potentially grueling process. For those involved as a plaintiff in a personal injury matter, an acquaintance with the process at work is integral to understanding the time frames, and likely timeframes, involved. In Maryland, personal injury matters are typically brought in and either state District Court or Circuit Court. Certain personal injury claims may be brought in federal court, but the discussion here is focused on the more common state court proceedings.
- District Court cases are smaller claims, with the jurisdictional limit in the court of $30,000, and a streamlined process for bringing the case to trial.
- Circuit Court is reserved for more serious matters, where the amount in controversy exceeds $30,000 and the pretrial procedure is more elaborate.
The timing of the setting of a trial date will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, as the number of cases filed in given jurisdictions will vary greatly. In Baltimore City District Court, a common timeline from the filing of the lawsuit to the first trial date is 90 days. If the defendant is served with the lawsuit, timely retains counsel or notifies his or her insurance company, it is possible that the trial will occur within those 90 days. If there is a procedural delay or administrative delay, or the defendant is not served with process, or a postponement is sought by either side, the timeline would be elongated. In Circuit Court, the process is similar, but because of the expanded pre-trial procedure and discovery mechanisms in Circuit Court, the timelines are protracted. In a Circuit Court action, after a defendant is served with process, the court will issue a scheduling order which contains important deadlines for the case, including the date of the trial. Again, the setting of a trial date and the timing thereof will vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction depending on the relative number of cases filed in that particular court system.The vital thing to remember as a plaintiff in a personal injury case is
....you will have your day in court
Unless, of course, your case settles. If your court if your case was resolved by way of an amicable pre-trial settlement, you have chosen to forgo your right to have the court decide the matter by reaching terms that are acceptable. If, on the other hand, you are unwilling or unable to resolve your case amicably by pre-trial settlement, your day in court will come. It sometimes takes a great deal of patience on the part of the participants in the case. Frequently cases are delayed. There are multiple reasons for delay. Those would include things like:
- Administrative delay within the court system.
- The need to obtain service of process on the defendant or another necessary party.
- Death or illness within the family of one of the participants.
- Additional time to gather needed evidence or
- Secure the attendance of witnesses.
In 2020, an new factor emerged to further complicate, and delay, trial scheduling: The coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. Courts were closed to all but essential business for essentially 6 months, and longer with respect to cases involving jury trials. Although as of November of 2020, the courts are reopened and functioning, that 6 months backlog is having a tremendous impact. It may make some superficial sense to think cases would be delayed 6 months beyond the typical timeframes. This has proved true is some cases, but not all. The rescheduling of cases canceled during the pandemic has varied greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and, in some instances, even with a given jurisdiction.
It goes without saying that none of the participants in a court proceeding delay the trial simply for the sake of delaying the trial. In fact, in order for a court to delay a case upon request, the individual requesting the delay must demonstrate that good cause exists to grant that request.
-This Article was updated by Eric Kirk on 11/13/20.