How long does a civil lawsuit take?
One common question among parties to a civil lawsuit, whether a plaintiff or defendant, is how long will it take to reach a resolution? The answer is tricky. The time it takes to resolve a civil lawsuit is highly dependent on various factors including the complexity of the matter and the parties’ willingness to settle.
At the outset, parties to a civil case may resolve the matter at any time by mutual agreement (i.e., settlement). In that case, the parties draft a Stipulation and Order outlining the terms of the agreed settlement and submit the document to the judge for approval. Absent of any glaring inequity in the terms of the Stipulation, the judge will typically approve of the parties’ settlement, and the matter will be deemed resolved (either in whole or in part, depending on the case, the terms of the settlement and indemnity agreement).
Settlement between the parties is possible from the day the lawsuit has commenced until final judgment by the court (whether at the trial level, or on appeal). This means, the lawsuit could take as short as a day to as long as multiple years to conclude.
Absent a settlement agreement between the parties, the length of a lawsuit is dependent on the date of trial. The date of trial is set by the court.
In California, the Superior Courts (i.e., trial courts) are subject to the “Fast Track” system, formally referred to as the Trial Court Delay Reduction Act. Pursuant to this system, the trajectory for civil cases depends on its type.
For example, most cases are general civil cases. “General civil cases” means all civil cases except probate, guardianship, conservatorship, juvenile, and family law proceedings, small claims proceedings, unlawful detainer proceedings, and other civil petitions. The courts aim to resolve most general civil cases within one year of commencement and aim to resolve all general civil cases within two years of commencement.
Exceptional civil cases (i.e., matters involving complex civil litigation), or cases that are delayed for a number of reasons, are permitted even more time for resolution. The California Superior Courts aim to resolve such matters within three years of commencement but may take longer depending on the circumstances.
By contrast, the courts aim to resolve small claims cases within 95 days of commencement.
While it is clear that the Courts are trying to limit the time it takes to reach a resolution in civil cases, there can be delays for any number of reasons. These include courtroom unavailability, discovery of additional facts that require more time to conduct further discovery, witness unavailability, substitution of attorney, etc.
Thus, when asked how long does a civil lawsuit take, the answer is – it depends. It can never be 100% certain from the commencement of a proceeding whether it will fall within the aforementioned time periods. With that said, the California Judiciary has made it a priority to resolve civil matters as efficiently and timely as possible without infringing on the parties’ rights.
If you, or someone you know, is involved in a civil lawsuit, contact our experienced attorneys at Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara, LLP to learn more.