When someone is injured in Illinois as a result of another party’s negligence or wrongdoing, the injured person can seek compensation through the legal system. This process is known as a personal injury lawsuit. Similar measures are available to certain members of the victim’s family when an act of negligence or wrongdoing results in death, through another type of legal action known as a wrongful death lawsuit.
Illinois personal injury basics
Although some personal injury and wrongful death claims arise from criminal circumstances such as assault or drunk driving, these lawsuits themselves take place in civil rather than criminal court. This means that a different set of rules, laws and procedures apply than those that arise in a criminal context.
The purpose of a personal injury lawsuit is typically not to punish the person or party at fault for causing the injury, but rather to compensate the victim for the damages he or she has sustained. The types of compensation that are available vary somewhat by state, as well as by the individual circumstances of the case.
In Illinois, someone who has been injured in a car crash or other situation involving another person’s negligence may be able to recover compensation for his or her direct economic losses, such as past and future medical expenses, hospital bills and rehabilitation costs, as well as lost income and the value of day-to-day tasks that the victim can no longer perform on his or her own, such as lawn care or housecleaning.
Additional compensation may be available to Illinois personal injury claimants for their non-economic losses. Depending on the circumstances, these may include damages such as pain and suffering, disfigurement, disability or loss of the ability to lead a normal life. Because these and other non-economic losses are not closely tied to a specific dollar amount, the amount of compensation for damages of this type can vary widely. A skilled personal injury lawyer can help clients gather and present compelling evidence of both economic and non-economic damages to help make sure they receive the full amount of compensation they are due.
Seek legal help quickly to protect your rights
In Illinois, there is a two-year statute of limitations on most personal injury claims, which means that a lawsuit usually must be filed within two years after the date that the injury occurred. Because it takes time to prepare all of the documentation, evidence and paperwork that are necessary for a successful personal injury lawsuit, it is important that you take action quickly after an injury in order to maximize the chances of filing a successful claim.
The first step in this process is to set up a consultation with a personal injury lawyer. This not only gets the ball rolling on the process of preparing your claim, but it also helps guard against the possibility that you may inadvertently forfeit your right to seek maximum compensation for your losses.
If you have been hurt in a car accident, it is likely that you will be contacted by insurance representatives who may ask you to provide a statement about the crash. It is important that talk to a lawyer before answering any questions about the crash or providing a statement to anyone, since doing so can be against your own best interests.
Although the insurance company representatives may sound as though they have your best interests at heart, their objective is to save the insurer’s money by minimizing the amount of compensation that you receive for your claim. To serve that purpose, they may use your statements as evidence against you in ways that you may not have anticipated.
In addition, an insurer may offer to pay out your claim in a set dollar amount — which may be far less than you would be entitled to if you pursued a legal claim for your injuries. Unfortunately, if you accept the insurer’s offer of payment, it may have the legal effect of “settling” your claim, meaning that you no longer have a right to pursue additional compensation for your injuries.
For these reasons, it is always a good idea to talk to a lawyer first before discussing your injuries or any related information with anyone else. A lawyer with experience in personal injury law can provide you with specific advice about your legal rights and the different options that are available to you. He or she can communicate with the insurance company and other parties on your behalf in order to safeguard your right to pursue maximum compensation.
Meeting with an attorney
During your first meeting with your attorney, he or she will most likely want to collect a great deal of information from you, and it helps to come prepared. To begin with, your lawyer may ask you to describe the accident or other circumstances that led to your injuries, including a description of the events themselves, who else was involved and whether there were any other potential witnesses.
He or she will also ask for information about any pain or other symptoms you have experienced since the injury, the medical treatments you have received, and how your injuries have affected your work and other activities. If you have not been to the doctor about your injuries, your lawyer may recommend that you do so. He or she may also ask you to sign a medical release, which authorizes him or her to obtain information on your behalf from your medical providers.
These records can provide valuable evidence of your injuries and related medical conditions to support your claim, especially if the defendant argues that you are not seriously hurt. Because some types of serious injuries are not obvious to a casual observer — such as soft tissue injuries or traumatic brain injuries — it is very important to have your condition documented by professionals in the medical community.
In addition, your lawyer will ask you for details about your insurance coverage and may ask you whether you have had spoken with anyone else about your injuries or the circumstances in which they arose. If you have spoken with an insurance adjuster or anyone else about these topics, your attorney will likely want to know the details of those conversations.
When working with your attorney, it is critical that you be honest and forthcoming with any information that he or she requests, even if it is embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about, and even if you think it may hurt your case. Your lawyer’s ability to advocate effectively on your behalf depends in large part on your cooperation, so it is in your own best interest to tell the truth.
Preparing for a deposition
One of the most important and potentially stressful parts of a personal injury lawsuit is the deposition. A deposition is a process by which the opposing party’s attorney will ask you a series of questions, which you are required to answer under oath. A deposition serves several functions, including:
- Putting the witnesses on record with their statements about the case.
- Discovering information about the other party’s case.
- Preparing for trial by learning about how a witness is likely to conduct him or herself in a courtroom setting before a judge and jury.
Depending on the complexity of the case, the deposition process can last anywhere from an hour to several days.
A deposition usually occurs in a law office rather than a courtroom. Although there is no judge present at a deposition, you will still be sworn in as if you were about to testify in court. The deposition will be transcribed by a court reporter, and the transcript can be admitted into evidence if your case goes to trial.
Your attorney will work with you to prepare for the deposition, which may help alleviate any anxiety you may be feeling about the process. A lawyer who is experienced in personal injury law and knowledgeable about the circumstances of your case will be able to help you anticipate the types of questions that are likely to come up and will work with you to make sure that you are prepared to respond to them appropriately.
In order to further prepare for the deposition, your attorney may ask you practice questions designed to familiarize you with the process and help you feel more comfortable with it. Especially if your injury was not recent, he or she may also work with you to review documents from your case in order to refresh your memory and make sure that you have all the information you need.
Although you must speak for yourself during the deposition, your lawyer will be present during the questioning and will intervene on your behalf if he or she believes that the opposing attorney is harassing you or otherwise conducting the deposition in an inappropriate manner.
During the deposition
It is natural and normal to feel nervous about the deposition process, and the more you work with your lawyer to prepare, the more smoothly it is likely to go. There are a few general principles that can be helpful to keep in mind during a deposition.
The first is that it is critical that you always be truthful during a deposition, since you are under oath and any apparent inconsistencies in your testimony can be used to undermine your credibility — and potentially your entire case. It is common during a deposition for the same question to arise many different times, often in slightly different ways. Do not let this throw you off; simply tell the truth and stick to it.
It is also important to understand that answering honestly sometimes means saying that you don’t know the answer to a question, even if it is embarrassing or uncomfortable to do so. You may feel a strong temptation to guess or speculate when you do not know the answer to a question, and the opposing attorneys may try to use this aspect of human nature against you. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it is perfectly acceptable to simply say “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember.” If a situation arises where you must provide an estimate or an approximation, be sure to state clearly that you are estimating.
Another thing to keep in mind during a deposition is that you should avoid providing more information than necessary. Although it may feel more natural to volunteer more information than what is specifically requested, giving in to that inclination can be detrimental to your case. Thus, in many cases the best answer may be a simple “yes” or “no.”
To make sure that you are answering only what is asked and not providing more information than is necessary, always wait to hear the full question before you state your answer. If you are not sure you understand the question, be sure to ask for clarification before you respond. In fact, it is a good practice to pause briefly after the question has been asked and before beginning your reply. Not only does this give you a chance to collect your thoughts and ensure that you understand the question, but it also gives your attorney an opportunity to interject if he or she believes an objection is warranted.
The next steps: trial or settlement
After the deposition, your case may proceed to trial, or you and the other party may decide to settle the claim out of court. When you settle a claim out of court, you accept payment from the other party and give up your right to seek further damages on your claim.
Many personal injury lawsuits are settled in this manner without ever going to court, and there are pros and cons to either approach. Settling out of court, for example, is typically much faster than going to court, but it may also mean settling a claim for less than the amount that you could potentially obtain at trial.
Your attorney can work with you to weigh the risks and benefits of each approach and determine the best course of action for your circumstances. Some factors that your lawyer may discuss with you during this conversation include his or her assessment of the likelihood that you will prevail at trial and the value of the damages he or she estimates you may be able to receive at trial.
If you have been hurt by another person’s negligence and are interested in learning more about the process of filing a personal injury lawsuit, be sure to talk things over with a lawyer at your earliest opportunity in order to keep your options open. He or she can answer any questions you may have about the process and will help you evaluate your case to determine whether moving forward with a legal claim is the best option under the circumstances.