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All About the Lawsuit Timeline

Apr 21, 2020 Brown Moore

Even if you haven’t been in a vehicular accident, it pays to be knowledgeable about the legal processes you’ll find yourself in when the time comes. This information can also be useful if any one of your family, friends, or loved ones find themselves in this kind of situation.

On this episode of When Accidents Happen, hosts Paige Pahlke and Jim Puritz share all that happens when you file a complaint. They share the processes involved, which include written discoveries, mediations, depositions, and the typical timeframe it takes to go from complaint to trial and verdict. It’s important that your lawyer is with you every step of the way, giving you guidance and support as you go through filing a lawsuit.

Key Moments from the Episode[00:51] – How to start a lawsuit

[02:05] – On interrogatories

[03:07] – Getting an expert on board

[04:49] – Timeframe from complaint to the trial

[05:39] – Resolving lawsuits through mediation

[06:59] – On depositions

[08:06] – Typical length of a motor vehicle case trial

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When Accidents Happen is a podcast by Brown Moore and Associates, a personal injury law firm based out of Charlotte, NC. This podcast is for general information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and is no substitute for consulting a personal injury attorney about your unique situation before making legal decisions. Visit our website for more online resources at ( , or better yet, call (704) 335-1500 for a free initial intake interview so Brown Moore and Associates can evaluate your case.

Read Full Transcript

Intro:[00:02]Chances are you're here because of an accident involving yourself or someone you love; and before the dust even settles, you're dealing with an insurance company that doesn't have your best interests at heart. You may be feeling overwhelmed. You may be feeling scared.
Intro: [00:18]Welcome to When Accidents Happen, a podcast brought to you by the attorneys of Brown Moore & Associates. With more than five decades of experience, our attorneys are here to guide you through these uncertain times and provide you with the information and answers you need today.
Paige Pahlke:[00:38]Hi everyone, this is Paige Pahlke and Jim Puritz, and we're back with another episode of When Accidents Happen. And today, we're going to be talking about the lawsuit timeline. Jim, how do we start a lawsuit?
Jim Puritz:[00:51]Sure. A lawsuit is started by writing out a document called a complaint, filing it in court, and that accuses someone else of breaking the law. Generally, in our cases, that's negligence or motor vehicle crash. And that document's filed in court and then served on the defendant.
Paige Pahlke:[01:07]After it's served on the defendant, how long do they have to respond to the complaint?
Jim Puritz:[01:12]They have 30 days to respond. That document that they respond with is usually an answer. There are other things they could file, but it's almost always an answer, and they extend that though. They can get an extension for 60 days. And I want to say every time, but nearly every time when they answer, regardless of the strength of your case, they're going to deny that they did anything wrong or, at a minimum, deny that they caused you any harm, so that's expected.
Paige Pahlke:[01:35]Now, Jim, when I'm filing my complaint, I'm also serving written discovery on the defendant; and with that, I'm asking the defendant to answer certain questions and provide certain information and documents. The reason I'm doing this is to gain important and valuable information about the defendant, about their position regarding how the event occurred, the defenses that they're going to assert, and the types and amounts of insurance coverage that might be available. Is this something that you do as well?
Jim Puritz:[02:05]It is something that I do. In fact, it's probably done in nearly every civil lawsuit throughout the country. I serve interrogatories, which is a fancy way of saying a written question under oath to the defense. I also asked for documents, insurance paperwork, where they were coming and going, that type of information, as well as ask them to admit certain things. Admit that they live in North Carolina, admit that they were the one driving the car. Those type of discovery is pretty much done in every civil lawsuit and it's certainly something that we handle in our lawsuits.
Paige Pahlke:[02:36]And then either before filing my complaint or shortly thereafter, if experts are appropriate in that case, I'm locating those experts and getting them on board for the case. And in my experience, not every case needs an expert, and experts unfortunately are expensive, but I understand why. If the case does not need an expert in order to maximize my client's potential, I'm not going to bring that expert on board. But if I do need an expert, I'm definitely going to find those experts early on and make sure they're on board and up to speed on the case.
Jim Puritz:[03:07]I absolutely agree. Getting experts is a part of many cases, many litigations. And for example, let's say you're injured in a car crash and you need a knee surgery. The common person doesn't understand the certain ligaments and the certain structural damage that can happen to a knee, and you may need a physician to explain that to a jury and may be legally required to prove that damage to the jury.
Jim Puritz:[03:31]Other cases when someone gets hit by a car or falls down and that's what you're seeking to recover, you don't necessarily need an expert on board. And if you don't need one, you shouldn't put it part of your discovery. But if you do need one, it's absolutely the right thing to do to get that onboard as soon as possible.
Paige Pahlke:[03:46]And earlier we talked about the defendant answering the complaint. When the defendant answers a complaint in my experience, my client also generally receives written discovery from the defendants. Similar to what we send out to them, they send it back to my client asking them to answer certain questions, provide documents, and sometimes answer requests for admissions or admit or deny certain things. Is that typically what happens with your clients as well?
Jim Puritz:[04:11]They always get it. We all get that type of discovery served on our clients. But I like to, and I imagine you do too, Paige... In fact, I'm sure you do, help our clients with answering those questions. We want to make sure that their legal rights are protected at each and every step, that means objecting to certain questions. It also means answering questions in certain ways. That's something we will sit down and talk through with our clients and help them write answers to that discovery.
Paige Pahlke:[04:39]In your experience, Jim, how long after the defendant answers the complaint does it take for the case to go through trial, if that's what's ultimately going to happen?
Jim Puritz:[04:49]There are a lot of steps that we've discussed. You file your complaint, there's an answer, you go through the discovery process, but the court will set a trial date and that trial date generally is a year to a year and a half away, and that's just the first trial. Oftentimes, there are unforeseen circumstances, a court has a prior case that's older than yours that must go first, there aren't enough jurors. Snow's not usually problem in Charlotte but weather inclement. The Republican National Convention coming to town, whatever it may be, there are reasons why a trial may be bumped. But generally speaking, it's a year to a year and a half away.
Paige Pahlke:[05:24]And I think that surprises a lot of clients, the timeframe. Like you said, the court sets the date and there are a lot of other cases on the docket that need to be heard, and so we are given that date and that's just kind of what we have to work with.
Jim Puritz:[05:35]Before trial, is there a way to resolve your matter through mediation?
Paige Pahlke:[05:39]
Yes. Mediation is actually required in North Carolina in Superior Court, and so that is an opportunity where the parties come together. Generally, we like to have it happen in our office. We will hire somebody called a mediator, they're a lawyer here in town and they are a neutral party. We present our side of the case. Defendants will present their side of the case. We'll split into two separate rooms, and then the mediator will pop back and forth between the two rooms trying to get us to come to a mutually agreeable number to resolve the case.
Paige Pahlke:[06:11]Now sometimes this works, other times it doesn't. But I still think it's a helpful exercise and it's something that we are required to do to see if we can't resolve it without having to go through a lawsuit.
Jim Puritz:[06:21]And if you are unable-
Paige Pahlke:[06:23]... through trial. Sorry.
Jim Puritz:[06:23]Through trial. Got it. And if you are unable to resolve your matter at mediation, do you lose your trial date or are you still able to go to trial?
Paige Pahlke:[06:30]You're still able to go to trial. Your trial date will not change because you didn't resolve it at mediation. If you don't resolve it at mediation, something will be filed with the court indicating that it didn't resolve at mediation and now it's ready to move on to trial.
Jim Puritz:[06:43]One thing that happens in my cases, Paige, is even before mediation and before trial is my clients go through depositions and I also like to take depositions of the other side of the other defendant. And is that your experience that depositions are common in your cases?
Paige Pahlke:[06:59]Yes, it is Jim. And with my client's depositions a lot of times that's a very scary experience for them, and so I want to make sure that they're properly prepared. And I bring them into the office in advance of their deposition, we work together, we prepare so that they feel comfortable when they are being deposed by opposing counsel. We always like to hold the depositions here at our office. And during the deposition, I would be sitting right next to you as the client, and I would be able to object if there are any inappropriate questions and be there listening and making sure that everything that is being asked is appropriate.
Jim Puritz:[07:35]And I like how you mentioned preparation for a deposition. The most important part for my clients is that they feel comfortable when they're answering those questions. If it takes one time for them to prepare, that's fine. If it takes two, three, four, however long they need to be comfortable in answering those questions, we are happy to do that for our clients.
Paige Pahlke:[07:56]Definitely.
Jim Puritz:[07:58]Let's say we've gone through the discovery process, we're past mediation, we're onto trial, how long does a trial last journaling your cases?
Paige Pahlke:[08:06]For a motor vehicle case, generally three to four days.
Jim Puritz:[08:10]And is that the whole case? Is that voir dire evidence? Verdict? Is that everything?
Paige Pahlke:[08:16]Yes. That's usually everything. That's selecting the jury and then putting on all of our evidence so calling the plaintiff, calling the defendant, calling any doctors, defense if they put on any evidence, and then closing arguments, and then the jury deliberates. But yeah, the last step is after we do our closing arguments, the jury gets the case and the judge instructs them of the instructions that they're supposed to use in evaluating the case. They're sent out of the room. They get to deliberate, come to a decision and then they come back into the courtroom and tell us their decision.
Jim Puritz:[08:50]And it's been my experience that a jury will take anywhere from five minutes to days. You really just do not know how long a jury is going to take in their deliberation.
Paige Pahlke:[08:57]You're right, Jim. There is no way to know how long it's going to take or even what they're doing back there. It's all private and it's in their hands after we give our closing arguments and they are instructed.
Jim Puritz:[09:08]Thank you very much, Paige, for having me on today and discussing about the timeline of litigation.
Paige Pahlke:[09:13]Great to have, Jim.
Outro:[09:17]We appreciate you joining us on this episode of When Accidents Happen. To learn more about today's discussion or to tell us your story, visit our website at That's or call (704) 335-1500.
Outro:[09:36]The insights and views presented in When Accidents Happen are for general information purposes only and should not be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. The information presented is not a substitute for consulting with an attorney, nor does tuning into this podcast constitute attorney-client relationship of any kind.
Outro:[09:50]If you're ready for the personal attention you deserve, contact Brown Moore & Associates today.