October 28, 2019

Waiting Periods in Civil Lawsuits

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Most clients are who are unfamiliar with civil lawsuits believe them to be expedient, but there are numerous common delays, or waiting periods, within the life cycle of a civil lawsuit. Many of these delays are unavoidable, regardless of the actions of the opponent. The first waiting period begins with the pleading, composed of the complaint and summons, that initiate the civil lawsuit. Once the pleading has been filed with the court, several common delays are initiated. First, the attorney for the plaintiff has 60 days after the filing date to then file a proof of service of summons. Anyone but the plaintiff can personally serve the defendant; thus, a third party generally performs that role. Many process serving companies exist specifically for this purpose. Once the third party serves the defendant, they must send the attorney the proof of service, which states when and how the defendant has been served with the initiating documents. Only then can the attorney file the proof of service of summons. Then, once the summons and complaint have been served on the defendant, the plaintiff’s attorney is required to wait at least 11 (but often longer depending on the method of service) before serving the defendant with any discovery requests.

The discovery period, where parties request documents, send interrogatories, schedule depositions, and ask for admissions, often takes up the bulk of the life of a lawsuit. When opposing counsel requests any kind of written discovery, including document production, interrogatories, and admissions, you generally have 30 days to serve a response. However, if requests are served by mail, the deadline to serve a response to written discovery is 35 days. Furthermore, if opposing counsel finds your responses to be insufficient, which is often the case, they then have 45 days after your response is served to file a Motion to Compel Further Responses.

On the other hand, depositions are, in some ways, more expedient. First, opposing counsel must provide sufficient notice, which is mandated to be at least 10 days before the deposition date. While this sounds like it is faster than written discovery requests, the reality is the parties must discuss schedules in advance. Finding a date that works for all parties is sometimes challenging and slows down the process. However, after opposing counsel serves the notice, if you plan to object, this must be done at least 8 days before the deposition date if served by mail or 3 days if served personally. With the deadlines so close to one another, it is not only recommended but is generally required that parties meet and confer regarding the availability of all involved parties. After the deposition takes place, it can take several weeks to receive the official transcript. After it is received, the client has 30 days to sign the errata notice, which confirms that all information in the transcript is true and accurate.

The waiting periods for the next portion of a civil lawsuit, known as motions, varies depending on the court venue. If the case is filed in a California court, after securing the hearing date for the motion, the deadline to both file and serve the notice of motion is 16 court days before the hearing date, although a few motions have unique timelines. Then the opposing counsel must file and serve their opposition to the motion 9 court days before the hearing date. Finally, you must file and serve your reply in support of the motion within 5 court days of the hearing date.

With the different components that make up a civil lawsuit, it is expected that the lawsuit can run over the course of several years. Hearings for motions are often continued to a further date to give parties the opportunity to come to an agreement on the matter outside of the courtroom and with minimal judge supervision. Further, if the case is to settle before trial, clients believe that means the case will be closed rather quickly and a payout will be received quickly. However, if a case does result in a settlement, some cases requires several hearings before any money is paid. For instance, in a class action case, the judge will require a hearing for Motion for Preliminary Approval of the Settlement and a Final Fairness Hearing, to ensure that the terms of the settlement are fair to all parties. This process can take several months or even years, depending on the number of drafts of the Settlement Agreement.

What this means for plaintiffs: while your claims against your employer may be legitimate, it does necessarily equate to a quick and painless resolution. You need a trusted and committed attorney to guide you through a process that can take several years. Contact us at (415)580-2574 if you would like a free legal consultation about an employment law problem.