May 13, 2024

How long does a lawsuit take in North Carolina?

This is the number one question we hear from clients when filing a lawsuit—how long is this going to take? It’s a fair question. No one likes being involved in a lawsuit, and they usually want it to be over as soon as possible. This article aims to give you an idea of how a lawsuit in North Carolina unfolds and show you why they take so long. 

Filing the Complaint Kicks Things Off 

The first step is filing a complaint outlining the allegations and relief being sought. The plaintiff, who files the complaint, must properly serve the complaint on the defendant. The defendant then has a set time frame to respond, usually 30 days. That clock does not start to run until the defendant has been served with the complaint. Usually, that’s easy enough, but if the defendant is difficult to find, multiple attempts at service may need to be attempted, which can take weeks.  

Discovery Digs Up Details  

After the initial filings, the discovery process begins. This involves utilizing tools like interrogatories, requests for production, and depositions to uncover and exchange evidence between the parties. There are usually multiple rounds of written discovery. For each round, each side has thirty days to respond, but can request an extension out to 60 days. So, if there are three rounds of written discovery, that would be 180 days—or half a year—spent just on this process! 

The Impact of a Case Management Order 

In many civil cases, but especially complex cases, the court may issue a “case management order” sometimes called a “discovery scheduling order.” This order may place restrictions on the amount of discovery which can be completed and set out deadlines for when each stage of the litigation must wrap up. It also sometimes sets a trial date, which helps everyone plan. 

Settlement Discussions Before Trial  

Before going to trial, both sides usually engage in settlement talks. They can negotiate informally through their attorneys, but every civil superior court case in North Carolina is also obligated to go through mediation. Mediation involves a neutral third-party trying to broker a compromise. If no agreement is reached, the case heads to trial.  

Trial Timelines Fluctuate 

The duration of a trial depends on the case complexity. A trial can range from a few days to several weeks. Factors like the number of witnesses and amount of evidence impact the trial length. Kemner v. Monsanto Co. in Illinois in the 1980s lasted three and a half years! But, that is a huge outlier. After all evidence is presented, the judge or jury will issue a final verdict.  

Appeals Can Prolong the Process 

You might think that once there is a verdict the case is over—and that is often the case. But, either side can appeal the verdict.  Each side has thirty days from the resolution of the case to notice their appeal, which kicks off a series of deadlines (usually 30 to 45 days each) before the case is heard in the appellate courts. If the losing side wins their appeal, the case may be sent back for a whole new trial. 


Parties to a lawsuit should know from the start that these cases can take months if not years to wrap up. Ultimately, a jury trial gives people their day in court, but it can be a long road to get there.  

This information is provided by Harris Legal for general benefit, education, and interest. If you have a specific legal question, you should consult with an attorney.