A nursing home abuse and neglect case is a type of medical malpractice case. These types of cases are known as a complex litigation case. The usual timeline from the date of filing a lawsuit, also known as the complaint, to settlement or trial is usually anywhere from one to three years.
You are probably asking why so long? On television programs the case goes to court within one hour. Of course, this is television, not real life.
In a real case, the attorney must first meet with the family and investigate the nursing home case. A nursing home will not allow an attorney to question their staff, before filing a lawsuit, to determine if there is a legitimate case. Therefore, the attorney must first examine the medical records. It may take several weeks to obtain these medical records. The attorney then begins to piece together what happened at the nursing home.
Next, if the attorney believes there are grounds for a medical malpractice case, under North Carolina law, they must have these records reviewed by an expert doctor and/or nurse. This will usually take at least 30 days for the expert to review the records. As you can see, we are already at about two months of time elapsed and the lawsuit has not even been filed.
If the expert doctor and/or nurse believe the nursing home staff has violated the “standard of care”, the expert will render an opinion to the attorney. At this time the attorney begins the legal process of developing a complaint or lawsuit. Depending on the complexity of the case, the Complaint that has to be drafted for the lawsuit to be filed may take several weeks.
Eventually the attorney files the lawsuit at the courthouse. The deputy sheriff must then serve the lawsuit on the nursing home. Large corporate chains own most nursing homes making it difficult, at times, to determine the appropriate party to be served. After being served, the nursing home retains defense counsel. The defense counsel usually files an extension to “answer” the lawsuit. This usually takes about another 60 days.
At this time the discovery process begins. This is when expert witnesses, such as doctors and nurses, and the staff of the nursing home are questioned under oath at what is known as a deposition. Again, depending upon the complexity of the case this could take a year to complete. By now we are up to least 18 months since the family first met with the attorney.
Eventually the court will schedule mediation. Mediation is an attempt to settle the case before trial. This will usually take place several months after the discovery process ends. At mediation, both the plaintiff and the defendant meet with a mediator to try to resolve the case without the time and expense of a trial. Many times mediation is successful and the case is settled. Sometimes mediation is unsuccessful and the case would then proceed to trial several months later. A typical trial may last anywhere from one to four weeks.
As you can see, the wheels of justice roll slowly. We have an imperfect and often times slow justice system but there is no doubt it is the best in the world. Knowing the timeline of a typical nursing home abuse case is important when determining how you want to move forward to obtain the justice your loved one deserves.