Timeline of a Las Vegas Personal Injury Lawsuit
A lawsuit begins with the filing of a complaint. Generally, if the accident occurred in Las Vegas, the complaint would be filed in state court. In some cases where damages exceed $75,000.00 and the parties reside in different states from each other, those cases can be filed with the federal court. This timeline will focus on cases filed in state court. The person on whose behalf the lawsuit is filed is called the plaintiff. The person being sued is called the defendant.
The amount of damages an injured person is seeking determines which state court the lawsuit is filed in. If the damages do not exceed $15,000.00, the case is filed with the Las Vegas Justice Court. If the damages exceed $15,000.00, the case is filed with the Eighth Judicial District Court.
Las Vegas Personal Injury Cases In The Eighth Judicial District Court
In personal injury cases (except Medical Malpractice), a lawsuit must be filed no later than the second anniversary of the accident. This is called the statute of limitations. This means that if the car accident or slip and fall that caused your injuries occurred on July 1, 2020, the lawsuit must be filed by July 1, 2022. If the lawsuit is not filed by the second anniversary, the lawsuit will be dismissed. Nevada’s statute of limitations applicable in personal injury cases can be found in NRS § 11.190.
Once the complaint is filed, the plaintiff has 120 days to serve the defendant with the complaint and a summons. This step is called service of process. A defendant must be served before the court can have jurisdiction over the defendant. The laws governing service of process can be found in Rules 4 and 4.2 of the Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure (“NRCP”). Failure to serve the defendant without good cause before the 120 expires can result in dismissal of the lawsuit. If additional time is needed to serve the defendant, a plaintiff should seek an extension with the court before the 120 days expires.
The best and primary way to serve a defendant is through personal service, which means that a defendant is personally handed the complaint and summons. Any person over the age of 18 years old and not a party to the lawsuit can serve the defendant. See NRCP Rule 4(c)(3). If the defendant is a legal entity, such as a corporation or a limited liability company, the company’s registered agent for service of process can be served. If the defendant is a Nevada corporation or limited liability company, you can find out who the registered agent is through the Nevada Secretary of State’s website.
If the defendant cannot be found, Rules 4 and 4.4 of the NRCP provides for alternatives to personal service. To be able to utilize those alternatives, the plaintiff or her attorneys must show that they conducted due diligence in locating defendant and attempting to serve them. Alternatives to personal service including publishing the complaint and summons.
Once the defendant is served, they have 20 days to file an answer. Once the defendant files an answer, the plaintiff can request exemption from the mandatory Court Annexed Arbitration Program or proceed through the program.
The Mandatory Court Annexed Arbitration Program
In the Eighth Judicial District Court, all cases are automatically enrolled in the mandatory Court Annexed Arbitration Program. Thus, unless exempted, all cases must first be arbitrated. The purpose of this Arbitration Program “is to provide a simplified procedure for obtaining a prompt and equitable resolution of cervical civil matters.” Absent good cause, arbitration hearings for cases in the program must be held within 6 months after appointment of an arbitrator. The laws governing the Arbitration Program can be found in the Rules Governing Alternative Dispute Resolution.
A case is exempted from the program if the case involves a claim in excess of $50,000.00. There are other reasons a case can be exempted from the program, such as public policy. A request for exemption must be submitted to the Arbitration Commissioner within 20 days after the defendant files an answer.
If a Las Vegas personal injury case is worth less than $50,000.00, it will usually be first arbitrated. In an arbitration, the case is decided by a qualified neutral third-party. Sometime after an answer is filed, the parties in such a case will receive a list of five potential arbitrators, usually local attorneys. Each party can de-select two of the potential arbitrators, and the Arbitration Commissioner will select the arbitrator from the remaining names.
The decision of the arbitrator is non-binding, unless the parties agree otherwise. This means that once the arbitrator issues her decision, either party to the lawsuit can elect to proceed to a trial by filing a “Request for Trial De Novo” within 30 days after the arbitrator issues her decision. If such a Request is filed, the lawsuit will proceed through the Short Trial program unless a party demands removal from the program within 10 days after the Request. If a lawsuit is removed from the Short Trial program, the lawsuit proceeds on the regular course of litigation.
As with the Court Annexed Arbitration Program, the Short Trial program is intended to provide a faster resolution of a lawsuit. Unlike a regular trial, a trial in the Short Trial program must occur within 120 days after the presiding judge is appointed. In a lawsuit that is not in the Short Trial program, it can take a year or more for a case goes to trial. There are other difference. Unlike a regular trial, a case in the Short Trial program only has 1 day to try the case in front of a jury of four people. Also unlike a regular trial, a pro tempore judge, rather than a district court judge, can preside over a Short Trial. The Short Trial rules can be found in the Nevada Short Trial Rules.
Scheduling Conference & Discovery
After a Las Vegas personal injury lawsuit is exempted from arbitration or an arbitrator is appointed, a scheduling conference will be held with the parties or their attorneys. If the case is in the Arbitration Program, the scheduling conference will be set by the arbitrator. If the case is not in the Arbitration Program, the plaintiff will schedule the conference. In the scheduling conference, the parties discuss how long they need to conduct “discovery” and set deadlines.
Discovery is essentially the process during which each side conducts their investigation and discloses the evidence they intend on using at trial. The Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure provide for the following ways to conduct discovery:
- Interrogatories (NRCP Rule 33)
- Requests for Production of Documents (NRCP Rule 34)
- Requests for Admissions (NRCP Rule 36)
- Depositions (NRCP Rule 30)
- Site Inspections (NRCP Rule 34)
- Independent Medical Examination (NRCP Rule 35)
- Subpoenas (NRCP Rule 45)
In cases outside the Arbitration Program or Short Trial Program, the discovery period could last longer than 6 months after the scheduling conference. Oftentimes, it could be as long as a year. The more complex a case is, the longer the discovery period could take. If the parties cannot agree on how long the discovery period should be, the district court judge assigned to the case or the Discovery Commissioner will set the discovery period.
Along with the discovery period, the other deadlines the parties can either agree to or the court can set include deadlines for filing pre-trial motions, deadlines for disclosing experts, and the deadline for the case to be ready for trial.
Dispositive Motions, Pre-Trial Motions & Trial
In cases outside the Court Annexed Arbitration Program or Short Trial Program, the next deadline the parties usually face after the discovery period is the deadline to file dispositive motions. This deadline is usually set 30 days after the end of the discovery period. Dispositive motions are papers or briefs submitted by a party to the court, in which the party asks the court for a case-ending decision. The typical dispositive motion is called Motion for Summary Judgment.
Another deadline the parties face after the discovery period is the deadline to file pre-trial motions. Pre-trial motions usually deal with evidentiary issues. That is, the parties argue what evidence can be shown to a jury or what must be excluded.
The final step is the trial. In cases outside the Court Annexed Arbitration Program or Short Trial Program, trial can last days and, sometimes, weeks. By the time a trial starts in a case outside the Court Annexed Arbitration Program or Short Trial Program, over a year could have lapsed since the lawsuit was started.
If you or a loved one are facing a lawsuit for injuries you sustained as a result of a car accident in Las Vegas, the experienced personal injury attorneys at D.R. Patti & Associates can assist you. With a combined total of 50+ years of experience, we can advise and guide you through the process and obtain the best results possible.