Anatomy of a Civil Lawsuit in Washington DC
Once we file the lawsuit why does it take so long to get to trial?
Unlike in books and movies, in real life the lawyers do a lot of work between the first meeting with the client and the opening statement on the first day of trial.
The lawyer you hire needs to gather all the important records and other evidence before filing suit in order to have it reviewed by experts. This is critical because your lawyer needs to understand all the fact and develop the theories of the case from the beginning.
Once the case is filed there is a period of time established by the Judge or by the rules of that Court that is called “discovery”. It means exactly what it sounds like, this is the time set aside for each side to “discover” the other side’s case. During this time the parties often send the other party written questions to answer and written request for documents, evidence inspection and even possible a medical examination of you. The lawyers also exchange information about who will be key witnesses in the case and often the defense will want copies of medical records for the injured party that go back 10-15 years. (See the section on interrogatories for more information on this topic) This is done in order to verify the health of the injured person before the accident and to see if that person had any pre-existing conditions that would limit their ability to work or are the same as any of the injuries claimed in the lawsuit.
During this time, your deposition will be taken. (See the deposition section for tips about being deposed.) Your lawyer will also depose witnesses for the defense. Some of your family members or key witnesses will also be deposed.
At some point, there is also a deadline for each side to disclose their experts to the other side. Your attorney will hire many experts to support your case. You will need experts to testify that the defendant’s acts or choice not to act was below accepted standards and that their conduct caused your injuries. You will also need experts, or treating doctors, who will testify about your condition, all the care you received and what care and surgeries you will need in the future. You may also need a life care planner to talk about the plan of care you need and your lawyer may hire an economist or a vocational expert to testify about how your injuries impact your ability to work and what losses you will suffer in the future as a result of the Defendant’s conduct.
The other side will hire experts to support their decisions and to argue that they acted appropriately and are not responsible for the harm caused. They may also hire a doctor to examine you and to testify about whether you are injured to the extent claimed. We call this a defense medical examination or DME. The other side likes to call it an independent medical examination or IME, but your lawyer will explain that this doctor hired again and again by the insurance company is not independent, that insurance doctor is hired to try to minimize your injuries.
Once all of the experts are disclosed and in most states deposed, then usually there is a period of time for legal motions if there are legal issued the judge needs to decide and then the case is set for a pretrial conference and a trial.
All along the way your attorney will be working to prosecute your case. You may not need to attend all of the depositions or the hearings in your case but rest assured that your attorney is working many hours on each task on your behalf.
If you have question or want more information please call 202-803-5800 or email us to learn more.