What To Expect In Personal Injury Cases
Suffering an injury due to an accident can be a life-altering event. Many accident victims are confused, upset, and left feeling helpless. The role of an attorney, among other things, should be to calm those fears and assist you in getting your life back together. For that reason, the Frankfort Law Group provides this free information so that you an idea of what to expect in a personal injury case, from beginning to end. We have offices in Frankfort and Oak Lawn in Illinois.
Although no two cases are the same, generally the process works as described below:
Initial Consultation, Post-Consultation Appointment
You will be given a list of some of the documents that you are asked to get together as well as some documents containing Frequently Asked Questions.
Throughout the process, it will be a good idea for you to keep a “journal” of sorts. This will help us in determining how you’re progressing medically, how your life has been affected, etc.
We will also give you a list of things that you should get together that will eventually be needed for your case. These will include bills, photos, taxes and an ongoing list. Again, we will give you a more thorough list.
Once we have your file, we start doing the following:
- Calendaring the date of your accident/injury. The law limits that you have 2 years from the date of accident/injury to file a claim. In other words, to file your lawsuit.
- Preparing and sending out attorney liens. See more information below.
- Sending out medical authorizations to providers for your medical records.
An attorney lien is a notice to parties that you have retained representation with regards to your injuries. This is typically sent to the insurance company of the causing party (if we have this information), the causing party, and to your insurance company. This is usually sent via certified/return receipt mail.
If we do not know who the other party’s insurance carrier is, it is expressed in the letters we attach to the attorney’s lien that they are to forward it to their insurance carrier.
Shortly after this time, the insurance will often start calling our office and requesting the status of your treatment and copies of any medical bills. If it is not anticipated that treatment will be long term, we will usually wait until treatment (or the majority of treatment) ends to file a lawsuit.
The Filing Of A Lawsuit
A Complaint is what initiates a personal injury lawsuit. Our office prepares the Complaint, which contains the allegations and what we are asking for. This is filed with the Clerk of the Courts along with a Summons. This is then given to the Sheriff in the county where the Defendant lives for service. A Defendant is a person that we are suing (you are the Plaintiff).
The Sheriff has about a month in which they need to serve the Complaint to the Defendant (give them a copy). If they are unable to find the Defendant for whatever reason, we need to ask the Court for a Special Process Server. We then file a Motion with the Courts and go to court to ask the Judge to allow us to hire someone to serve the Complaint.
At that time, we ask for an Alias Summons to be issued. This gets stamped by the Clerk of the Courts, and we then send the Alias and our Complaint to our Process Server, who then gets these documents to the Defendant. These documents must be personally given to an individual, and cannot be just mailed.
Once the Defendant has the Complaint in hand (or, has been served), they have 30 days to respond. What they are supposed to do is provide the Complaint to their insurance carrier, who will then take over the matter for them. Often times, the Defendant winds up ignoring this step. When they fail to do what they are supposed to, we often try to contact the insurance to let them know.
If they still fail to respond, then we will prepare and go to Court on a Motion for Default. This is when we ask the Court to find the Defendant liable due to their failure to respond and enter a judgment (money). Things very rarely end there though, as this is when the insurance realizes that they need to do something. This is also when we usually get calls from the insurance, or when the insurance company’s attorney files a Motion to Vacate or ask the Court to not default their client and not grant a judgment.
The Defense’s attorney will then need to file an Appearance and/or Answer to the Complaint. This is just what it sounds like. An Appearance is when an attorney files papers with the court saying who they are and who they represent. An Answer is the Defense’s response to our allegations in the Complaint.
Now the ball is rolling. From here, there will be several court dates. You will NOT be going to these dates, that is why you have an attorney! There will be Motions and Orders. Motions are when an attorney is asking the court for something, orders are the courts decisions on things.
Each time anything is filed with the courts or we receive an Order, we will send you a copy. You will see that there are Status dates, etc. These are just dates that are set by the Court to go in and let the Judge know what is going on with the case.
This is a long process, not like on television. You don’t go to court one day and walk home with a check the next day. There may be extended periods of time when you don’t hear from us. It is not that we don’t care, it is just that there is nothing to report.
The Discovery Stage
Most likely, Defense’s counsel will send us Interrogatories and Requests for Production. As soon as we receive these, we forward them to you. These are time-sensitive and require immediate action. From the date that our office receives the documents, we have 28 days to return them to Defense’s attorney.
Interrogatories are basically a list of questions pertaining to the accident and any claims you make. They will almost always ask for identifying information (name, address, date of birth, social security number, employer, etc), information about the incident, medical questions, pre-existing conditions, missed work, witnesses, etc.
Requests for Production are actual documents that the Defense wants us to provide. This will include doctor’s records, bills, photographs, taxes (which helps us show lost income), etc.
This is why it is so imperative to begin to gather these documents and information early on. It may take a year before we even get to this point, and you tend to forget things and misplace things in that time!
Once you have gotten together your responses to the Discovery, you will return it to our office where we will organize it and prepare it to be sent to the Defense’s attorney. Before we send it off, we will have you come in to review it and sign off saying it is complete.
Depositions will likely occur around this time. Often, the Notice of Deposition is sent the same time as the Interrogatories and Requests for Production. The actual deposition will usually not occur until after we have sent all of our answers to Defense and they have had an opportunity to review it.
A deposition is when you appear with your attorney in front of a court reporter and are asked questions by the Defense’s attorney. This is an informal event that usually takes place at the Defense’s office. The Defendant is not present.
The purpose of a deposition is to try to find out what happened and for the attorney to determine what you would say if there were a trial. When you are asked questions, there are certain things to keep in mind:
- Answer only what is being asked of you. In other words, limit what you say to what is asked, don’t add extra details.
- If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification.
- If you don’t remember, don’t guess. Just say you don’t recall.
- Do not feel the need to fill the silence by talking. Answer to the point, but don’t feel you need to add more just because the other attorney is being silent.
Just like you will be sent to discovery, we will do the same to the defendants.
After The Discovery
Often, the case will be settled between the parties. We may propose a settlement or they may propose one. We will never accept a settlement without talking to you first! Things that are taken into consideration for settlements will include the amount of your bills, loss of wages and anything we may have asked for in our original Complaint.
Very rarely will a case go to trial.
Throughout the process, we will do everything in our power to keep you informed. However, it is a long process, and unfortunately, the wheels of justice move slowly. As such, don’t be fearful if a month or two goes by and nothing seems to be happening.