What’s the Process? Understanding Your Illinois Personal Injury Lawsuit
By James Bizzieri
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, approximately 37.9 million emergency room visits are injury-related. Personal injury claims arise when someone is injured as a result of another's negligence. Personal injury attorneys usually are retained on a contingency fee basis, meaning that legal fees are collected if and when your case succeeds. The most common type of personal injury cases, based on injury statistics, include motor vehicle accidents, medical malpractice and work-related injuries. If you believe you have a personal injury claim, here is what you can expect.
Your Claim – The Investigation Process
Once hired, your attorney will carefully research your case. With thorough diligence a personal injury lawyer will be able to better understand how the incident occurred and the extent of your injuries, possible damages you may be entitled to, and the costs involved in pursuing the case. The attorney will communicate with all interested parties including the insurance company, any expert witnesses if needed, and opposing counsel representing the party who caused your injury. Throughout this entire process your legal counsel will inform you of any significant developments.
Settlement – Reaching an Agreement Before Trial
A majority of personal injury cases never make it to trial because the parties decide to settle out of court. Your attorney will negotiate with the insurance company’s legal counsel representing the party who caused your injury and an offer may be made in exchange for not pursuing the case to trial. If the opposing party does make a settlement offer, your attorney will inform you about the details – a legal and ethical requirement – and advise as to whether or not it should be accepted. An attorney will not settle a case without your permission; ultimately it is the client’s decision whether the settlement is acceptable or not.
Litigation – Going to Trial: Should the negotiation process be unsuccessful, the next step in a personal injury claim is for your attorney to file a lawsuit in the appropriate court. Once a complaint is filed, a judge will set deadlines for each phase of the litigation. Depending on the complexity of the case, the time frame from initial suit to final judgment could range from several months to a number of years. The litigation process can be divided up into phases:
Pre-trial: During the pretrial phase your attorney files a complaint detailing the allegations, damages and relief sought. The defendant’s attorney files an answer, which may include affirmative defenses. Discovery also begins and may include the taking of depositions, interrogatories, and requests for documents. Finally, either party’s attorney may file a motion before or after discovery has finished requesting the court take action, and the court may then set hearing.
Trial: If your case goes to trial, each attorney advocates for his or her client by presenting a case before the court. The order of the trial will go as follows: jury selection, opening statements of each party, testimony of witnesses and cross-examination by opposing counsel, closing arguments (including rebuttals), jury instruction by the judge, and jury deliberation and verdict.
The determination left for the jury includes whether or not the defendant is legally responsible for the injuries suffered by you (known as liability) and, if the defendant is found liable, what amount of damages should be awarded. Damages may include compensatory damages, which are designed to make you “whole” again, are aimed at placing you in the same position you were in before the injury occurred. Examples of compensatory damages include: lost wages, medical expenses, funeral expenses and repair or replacement of damaged property. Punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant for causing the injury and deter others from doing the same, may also be awarded. These damages are not common and require the defendant’s actions to be willful and wanton.
Mediation – An Alternative to the Courtroom
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution available to parties involved in a lawsuit. Mediation can be requested at any time during the case and involves all parties, legal counsel and a neutral third-party mediator. During mediation, each party presents their case and settlement negotiations are conducted through the mediator. Parties are usually in separate rooms and the neutral mediator goes between the parties until an agreement has been reached. Because mediations are non-binding, the parties do not have to accept the offer.
Personal injury law is complex and, therefore, a skilled expert in the field may be the best advocate for your case. Contact a Chicago area personal injury attorney today for a consultation about your case. If you have been injured due to the negligence or wrongdoing of another, a personal injury attorney at Bizzieri Law Offices can guide you through the entire process and obtain monetary damages to which you may be entitled.