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Timeline & Flowchart of a Typical Personal Injury Lawsuit

Many people hire a lawyer with no prior experience as to how the legal system works. It is highly complex, and the timeline from start to finish can be long and emotionally challenging. At Gillin, Jacobson, Ellis & Larsen (GJEL Accident Attorneys) we communicate every step of the way with our clients to help them understand the process. Each lawsuit takes a different path, and those paths are not always predictable.

In the PDFs below, we address some of the more common things you can expect when filing a lawsuit.


While we can’t tell you everything that might happen in any particular case, these steps provide an overview of what you may generally expect:

  • Once a lawsuit is filed, the next step is to have the appropriate documents served on the defendant.
    • The courts typically require papers get served on the defendants somewhere between 30 to 60 days from the date when the lawsuit is filed.
    • In the average case, the defendant(s) are indeed served papers within 30 days.
  • Once the defendant(s) are served, they have 30 additional days from the date of service within which to file their responsive papers.  It is very common for defendants to ask for an additional 15 days grace period to do so.
  • Written questions between parties (called interrogatories) are often exchanged approximately 60 days after the lawsuit has been filed. Typically, within 35 days from when questions are mailed, the parties must answer them. The parties will get assistance from their attorneys when answering the questions.
  • Oral depositions often take place within 6 months of lawsuit filing.  A deposition is a more informal proceeding than presenting actual testimony in court.  It involves sitting in a lawyer’s office with a court reporter present and answering questions asked by the other party’s attorney.

When you, as our client, are deposed, a GJEL attorney is present to make sure the questions are proper, and to instruct you not to answer if they are improper. We prepare you in advance of the deposition for the likely inquiries.  Just as the attorney from the other side will take your deposition, GJEL lawyers will take the deposition of the defendant(s).

  • Sometime during the first six months of the case it is quite common for the defense to have an injured party examined by a doctor hired by the defense.  At GJEL, we always accompany the injured party to that doctor’s visit.
    • Also during this period of time, the medical records of the injured party are subpoenaed by the other side.
  • At some point in the proceedings, the parties begin to hire expert witnesses, both with respect to medical issues and often as to issues involving fault.  Ultimately those expert witnesses will have their depositions taken by the attorneys for the opposing side.
  • Later in the process, as the case gets closer to trial, the attorneys for each side are required to disclose the names of their expert witnesses and to indicate the subject matter of their testimony.
  • Somewhere along the way, settlement discussions will begin either informally or formally.  At some point, the court will typically order the case to mediation.  Mediation is essentially a settlement conference conducted by either a retired judge or a skilled, neutral third party, in order to see if the case can be resolved.
  • If the mediation is not successful, the case then proceeds to trial.  Trials take anywhere from four days to three weeks, depending on the complexity of the matter.  If the trial is a jury trial, the jury will reach a decision usually after deliberating anywhere between several hours and several days.
  • If the mediation is successful, the mediator will write up the terms of the mediation and have everyone sign it.  Then paperwork is exchanged and the injured party usually has his or her funds within 30 days of the date of the mediation.

Outside of this timeline, many cases are settled long before a lawsuit is filed. The greater the reputation of the law firm you hire, the greater the likelihood the defendant is going to want to settle the case without litigation.  Insurance companies, for example, are generally not fond of spending large sums hiring lawyers to defend a case, only to lose it at trial and be forced to pay the same amount or more than they would have paid in a pre-lawsuit settlement.


GJEL Accident Attorneys is a San Francisco bay area law firm representing plaintiffs in catastrophic injury and wrongful death cases.  Since 1972, GJEL has recovered more than $500 million for its clients, a 99 percent rate of return. The firm represented the family of a construction worker killed in a pipeline accident who received the largest ever wrongful-death recovery in Contra Costa County — a $10.65 million judgment. For more information, visit www.gjel.com or email lawfirm@gjel.com.

The content of this web site, and this article, are intended to convey general information only.  The reader should not rely upon anything here as legal advice applicable to a particular case or circumstance.  Should you have any questions as to your individual situation, please make an inquiry to GJEL Accident Attorneys.