Personal Injury Lawsuit Process
Lawsuits are complicated and sometimes ugly, and most people would rather not have to deal with one in their lifetime. However, if you’ve been injured in an accident caused by someone else’s negligence, recklessness, or intentional action, you may not have much choice but to file a lawsuit if you want the compensation for your medical bills and other damages that you deserve.
To help demystify some of the process, we’d like to offer an explanation of some of the things you can expect to happen in a personal injury lawsuit. However, we recommend consulting an experienced personal injury lawyer about your individual case since every case is unique. A lawyer can represent you through every step of the process and help you make informed decisions so that you get the best possible outcome in your case.
It’s important to understand the Personal injury lawsuit process if you have been injured due to someone elses negligence. Our skilled team of attorneys can help guide you through this process and answer all of your questions.
This is the first step that initiates a lawsuit. Your lawyer drafts a document called a complaint that outlines what happened, usually in broad terms. The complaint also will outline the legal principles involved that form the basis of the lawsuit, for example, it will say that the person you were suing, called a defendant, was negligent and how the defendant was negligent. The last element of the complaint seeks a legal remedy for your injuries or damages. In a personal injury lawsuit, the remedy sought usually is monetary compensation, and the complaint will specify the types of compensation you’re seeking, and sometimes the dollar amount. That may include payment of medical costs, lost wages, pain and suffering, disability and disfigurement, and loss of normal life.
After the complaint is written, your lawyer will have it filed in the appropriate court. In Chicago, that may be the Cook County court or the federal court for the Northern District of Illinois.
When a complaint is filed, a copy has to be provided to all of the defendants so that they have a chance to respond. The act of providing a copy is called service. Courts have rules for methods that can be used to serve the complaint upon the defendants. Usually, just sending it in the mail is not sufficient. The complaint may have to be sent by certified mail, or your lawyer may hire a person known as a process server to deliver the copy in person.
Once the complaint is served, defendants are allowed a certain amount of time to respond to your allegations. The response is formal and in writing, and must be filed with the court by a certain deadline. If defendants are served with the complaint and fail to respond, your lawyer may be able to get what’s known as a default judgment, which basically says that you win the lawsuit because the other people didn’t defend themselves. It’s much more likely, however, that the defendants will file a response that denies your allegations. Then the lawsuit moves into the next phase.
Discovery is the evidence gathering and fact-finding phase of a lawsuit. Often the bulk of time spent on a lawsuit will be spent on discovery. During this phase, all of the parties will trade written questions and requests for evidence designed for each party to find out what the other parties will use to support their case.
Discovery also involves formal interviews called depositions, during which each side will get a chance to question the other side and any witness under oath and in the presence of a court reporter. Testimony taken in depositions often is used to make sure that no one’s story changes later during trial. Sometimes deposition testimony may be used instead of having someone testify at a trial if the witness lives far away or has an illness or otherwise is unable to come to court to testify.
Witnesses can be subpoenaed to testify at depositions. When the other side wants to take your deposition you have to appear, although usually both sides can work together to pick a time and date that’s convenient.
Motions are written arguments made by lawyers to the court. It’s common once discovery is complete for one or both sides to file what is known as a motion for summary judgment, which seeks to have a judge rule in favor of one party in the lawsuit based on all of the information and legal principles available at that point. Other types of motions may seek to prevent evidence from being introduced or witnesses from testifying.
It’s normal at any point during the lawsuit process for one side or the other to attempt to settle the case. In fact, the vast majority of cases settle without going to trial.
If the case doesn’t settle, it will proceed on a schedule set by the court. That schedule will include periodic hearings or conferences so that the attorneys can update the judge on the status of the case, and discuss any legal issues that have arisen. You won’t usually have to be present for pretrial hearings. Your lawyer attends on your behalf.
A trial is the part of the lawsuit where everyone goes to court and presents their arguments and evidence, often in front of a jury. Sometimes a case may be tried by a judge without a jury, but most personal injury cases will have a jury. Trials have several phases:
- Jury Selection — Lawyers from both sides will question potential jurors to whittle the large group of people called for jury duty down to the appropriate number for the jury, plus a few backup jurors known as alternates.
- Opening Statements — The lawyers for each side will summarize for the jury what the case is about and what they can expect to hear.
- Plaintiff’s Case — The plaintiff (you) presents evidence and testimony in support of your case.
- Defendant’s Case — The defendant presents evidence rebutting your version of events and supporting their own case.
- Closing Arguments — The lawyers for each side summarize the evidence and testimony and make an argument to the jury for why the jury should find in their client’s favor.
- Jury Instructions — The judge will give jurors detailed instructions regarding how to consider evidence and come to a verdict.
- Deliberation — The jury considers the evidence and comes to a conclusion.
- Verdict — The jury announces a finding in favor of one of the parties. If the finding is in your favor, the jury will set an amount the defendant is supposed to pay you for compensation of your damages.
If the verdict was not in your favor, you may have an opportunity to appeal to a higher court. There have to be legal grounds for an appeal, such as a judge incorrectly ruling that you couldn’t question a witness or introduce a particular piece of evidence.