I had a meeting the other day with a client who was concerned about the status of his lawsuit. We represent him for the death of his father due to medical malpractice. Not surprisingly, he is constantly thinking about his father and his lawsuit, pouring over medical records, doing his own medical research and analyzing our expert’s reports and opinions. When a few weeks go by and he hasn’t heard from our office, he gets anxious and wants to know that we are doing all we can. When we had our meeting, I did a better job of explaining how the lawsuit works and the procedure that has to be followed. I explained that over the life of a lawsuit, there will be bursts of activity followed by weeks and even months of little or no action. The first burst of activity happens when the client first comes in. We get medical records, interview the client and any important witnesses, and get preliminary opinions. After that, there will be down time as we wait for all the medical providers to copy and provide records. Seldom do I get all the medical records on the first request, so there will be additional downtime. Once those records are received, they go to an expert for his review. In a medical malpractice action in North Carolina, medical experts are required to file a complaint and those experts have to be actively treating patients. As a result, there will be more downtime before the doctor can get to a review of the records. Once all the information is together and the opinions are finalized, there will be another burst of activity as the complaint is drafted, reviewed by the client and the experts and then filed. The ball is then in the defendant’s court. After they are served by mail or sheriff they have 60 days to respond with their answer. (Technically it is 30 days with a perfunctory extension of time for another 30 days). A month or two after that there will be another burst of activity around the written discovery, particularly as the client has to help provide all the answers. Depositions of experts and defendants will then take place and it often takes some time to get a date that is convenient for all the attorneys and experts. After all the discovery is completed, the lawyers and parties get their calendars out again to find a date to conduct the court-ordered mediation. This will be the final burst before the actual trial.
Your attorney should notify you about the progress of a trial, and if you have not heard from him in 30-60 days, you should not be hesitant about contacting him about a status update, but keep in mind there are large stretches of time where there is nothing that is being done because nothing can be done.
–Bradley A. Coxe is a practicing attorney in Wilmington, NC with Hodges & Coxe PC who specializes in Personal Injury, Medical Malpractice, Homeowner's Associations, Contract and Real Estate disputes and all forms of Civil Litigation. Please contact him at (910) 772-1678.