When you hire a lawyer, and file a civil lawsuit, you will generally be given various deadlines that are initially set through the court before which your case is pending in what is called a “scheduling order.” Scheduling orders vary in content from court to court, but will all generally contain, at minimum, a date for the trial of your case, a date for a pre-trial conference in your case, and a date when the discovery in your case must be completed. Your lawyer should inform you of relevant dates set by the scheduling order in your case as soon as possible, so that you can mark your calendar and plan to be available for events that you must attend, such as the trial. During the course of your case, there may be other dates that you will need to be available, too, such as for a deposition, for an independent medical examination, or for mediation. Your lawyer’s office should communicate with you to set those date and should also remind you periodically of upcoming dates in your case that you must be aware of.
However, sometimes dates in your case will change. There can be a number of reasons that this could happen, but sometimes it may seem confusing or frustrating to you when deadlines are pushed back or case events are cancelled on seemingly short notice. Here are some of the typical reasons that the dates in your civil lawsuit can change.
The court may enter a new scheduling order that changes the previous trial date, pre-trial date, and other deadlines.
As your case progresses, your lawyer may discover new facts or issues that can change some of the claims in your lawsuit or the types of information that will need to be gathered during discovery. The same can happen for the defendant. Either side may decide at some point as the lawsuit progresses that it should file various motions with the court asking the court to rule on certain issues, for example, ordering the other side to produce documents or information in discovery or add or dismiss certain claims or parties from the case. At times, these issues may be complex and require the court to reevaluate the time permitted to the parties to complete adequate discovery and prepare for trial, and the court may determine that more time is needed and move back the trial date and other case deadlines. Sometimes a party may specifically request that the court does this, or the parties may reach an agreement that more time is necessary and jointly ask the court to do this. If you learn that the scheduling order in your case has been changed, and the trial or other dates have been moved, you can always ask your lawyer for an explanation of why that happened and how this will affect your case. While it may seem frustrating to wait longer for your trial or have your case continue longer than you originally expected, most of the time, such changes are for the best in your case and your lawyer can explain why.
There may be a stay entered in your case.
At times, there may be what is called a “stay” entered in your case. This is a court ruling that essentially presses pause on the lawsuit while some other issue is resolved that greatly affects your case. Oftentimes, a stay occurs because an issue in your lawsuit has gone up on appeal to a higher court. There are other reasons for a stay as well. A stay can be one of the most frustrating things from the perspective of a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit because it is unclear when it will be over and when your case may be able to get back on track toward trial, but asking your lawyer to explain the reasons for the stay can help you better understand the issues in your case that need to be resolved before the case can proceed. Additionally, it is important to remember that just because a stay has been entered in your case does not mean that your lawyer has forgotten about your case or stopped working on it. Your lawyer should continue to review your file and conduct other work that will help them be prepared to pick right back up where they left off once the stay is lifted.
Human events simply happen.
Sometimes lawyers, judges, or others involved in your case get sick, have family emergencies, or have something else come up that necessitates rescheduling a case event. While every effort is made to keep case events as scheduled, there may be times where your deposition, mediation, or a court hearing may need to be postponed or rescheduled. Sometimes that reason may be because of you, such as if you were unexpectedly called to tend to a family emergency or if you were too ill to leave your house. Communication between your lawyer and you is essential in this type of situation, and this is one of the reasons it is important that your lawyer always have a reliable telephone number or email address to contact you.
These are some of the typical reasons that the deadlines or dates in your civil lawsuit may change, but there can be others as well. Any time that you have a question about what is going on in your case, or why something has happened or changed, you should contact your attorney and ask. It is your case, and your lawyer is there to help your feel as comfortable as you can with what is happening and be able to plan for all of the important dates.