The Parts of a Personal Injury Case
A brief timeline and description
Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer
Scott D. DeSalvo
On The Timeline of a Lawsuit
I put this page together to explain and give a rough timeline, step by step, of what happens in a typical injury case or claim. This timeline does not apply to Workers Compensation claims or Uninsured or Underinsured Motorist claims. All three of those kinds of cases can actually move forward more quickly than a standard third-party injury claim. Complicated cases with many parties in the lawsuit (like medical malpractice cases, products liability cases, and some nursing home abuse and neglect cases) can run longer and take longer to move through the system than a simple car accident case.
1. Pre-Suit Investigation.
In this part of the case, your lawyer collects information about WHO should be sued, and discovers who each potential Defendant’s insurance company is. I also always try to find out how much insurance there is, so I can advise my client right away about the best strategy is for their case given the type and seriousness of the injury, and insurance policy limits. Whether treatment is complete or not, your attorney should get all of your medical bills and records together, as well as all information that shows why each Defendant is liable (things like witness statements and police reports). Once all of this information is together, your personal injury lawyer will send each Defendant’s insurance company a settlement submission including all of the gathered information, organized and put together in the way most likely to convince the insurance company to make an offer. If successful, your case is settled.
During this phase, insurance companies are also doing their own investigations, including an impressive amount of background checking to check on your criminal record, your insurance and health insurance and claims records, employment history, and a dizzying number of other things. After all, when you have all the money you will ever need, like insurance companies, they can afford to leave no stone unturned. During the negotiation process, insurers will often request information from you (if you do not have a lawyer) or your lawyer. Depending on what is being requested, it is up to your lawyer to decide whether what is being requested is reasonable.
This part of the case can take anywhere from 3 months to 2 years (or possibly even longer, depending on the kind of personal injury case we are talking about), depending on the case. Other factors are how difficult it is to obtain needed records and information, and whether the insurance company is being cooperative.
2. Lawsuit: Service and Pleadings
If the personal injury case cannot be settled, then it either must be dropped or a lawsuit must be filed (in 3rd party cases). Once the lawsuit is filed, no progress can be made towards trial until each Defendant is served with a copy of the Compliant by the Sheriff or a Private Investigator. Once served, each Defendant must file an Appearance, and then, they can ask the Court to dismiss your case if they think there is a problem with it, or, they can Answer what is alleged in your Complaint.
This part of a case can take several months to more than a year in a complicated case.
3. Lawsuit: Discovery
Once everyone is in the case, then all party trade written questions called Interrogatories, as well as requests for documents, which must be answered by everyone and verified by the parties. Then depositions, or sworn statements taken under oath transcribed by a Court Reporter, are taken of parties, witnesses, doctors, etc.
This is a great simplification of the long, expensive, and drawn-out discovery process, which can take as short as 4 months to as long as several years on rare occasions. This part of a case can take the longest.
4. Lawsuit: Motion Practice, Trial Setting
Once discovery is complete, if the Defendant thinks that there is a fatal flaw in your case, he can move for Summary Judgment, which allows the Court to dismiss your case if you do not have evidence to prove it. If no such Motions are brought, or if they are denied, then your case is set for trial, and your lawyer gets ready for trial-a very time consuming and stressful time. You doctor or doctors and your liability expert, if any, must either come to Court to testify live, or your personal injury lawyer can take the witnesses’ evidence deposition to be read to the jury (or watched by video tape) at trial.
Since all parties in a suit get a chance to research the cases law and respond the Motion(s) in writing, it should come as no surprise that these Motions can take more than a month to brief and argue. Sometimes, the Court wants time to look into the law on its own, and that can easily mean more times before a Motion is ruled upon. it is frustrating for all involved, but it is probably the only fair way to give everyone their chance to have their side heard before the Court decides the Motion.
This phase usually lasts only a few months, but in certain Courtrooms, the backlog of cases can delay a trial date for a year.
5. Lawsuit: Trial
A bench trial, no no jury and only a Judge deciding the case, can last a day, or several weeks. A jury trial usually lasts at least 2 days to several weeks in the case of very complicated personal injury cases. No matter what, you, as the client, must be present during the entire trial, must dress nicely, and must assist your attorney in combating the notion that you are greedy, were not really hurt, and are just looking for a quick buck. Jurors are pre-disposed to suspicion of injury cases these days, even in straightforward injury cases, so you must take the trial of your cases as seriously as your lawyer.
6. Post-Trial Motions/Appeal/Settlement Administration
After the trial, if either party thinks that mistakes were made which affected the outcome of the case, then they may file post-trial motions to set aside the trial, for a new trial, or to reverse the jury’s decision, or simply file an appeal with the Appellate Court.
Parties have only a very short amount after a trial to file such Motions or to file an Appeal, but if they do, Appeals have been known to last at least a year, and sometimes, much longer. Appeals are very, very rarely taken.
Of course, the above is meant simply as a broad introduction to how these cases move through the system. It is not complete and there are a lot of details that, for the sake of time and space, I cannot describe in minute detail.
I hope you find the information helpful. If I can answer any questions you have or if you wish to contact me about your case, you may contact me HERE.
Chicago Personal Injury attorney Scott D. DeSalvo has been in practice defending the rights of people who have been injured for many years. More information about Mr. DeSalvo and information about how to protect your rights can be found at www.desalvolaw.com.