Car accident claims often settle and don’t need to go to trial. But more complicated and contentious auto accidents might be decided by a jury. If you were hurt in a collision someone else caused, learn more about the trial process. You might have to prepare to go to court to get fair compensation for your injuries. But you never have to go through litigation alone.
It’s essential to determine which court has subject matter jurisdiction over the collision and personal jurisdiction over you and the defendant is essential. If you file your lawsuit in a court that doesn’t have jurisdiction, it will immediately dismiss the case, or the defendant will file a motion to dismiss successfully.
Jurisdiction isn’t complicated if you and the defendant are both from Illinois. But if the at-fault driver or other liable parties are from a different state, then you should consult an attorney about where to file and whether you should file in state or federal court.
Once your lawyer is confident in the facts of your case and which court has jurisdiction, then they will write and file your complaint. Your complaint is the document that states your allegations, names the defendant, describes your injuries, and demands compensation. It’s a type of pleading, and it’s the official start of your lawsuit. Once you file your complaint, you officially become a plaintiff, and the other party becomes the defendant.
You have to send a copy of the complaint and a summons to court to every defendant you name in your complaint. It’s called service of process. Without it, the other party isn’t lawfully notified of the claim, and you can’t move forward. Your lawyer will make sure each defendant is served properly.
Once the defendant is served with your complaint, they have a limited amount of time to file an answer. In the answer, the defendant can say why they disagree with your allegations. This also is when the defendant can file a counterclaim. For example, the defendant might think you were also negligent. They could file a claim for contributory fault.
There might be something in your complaint that needs to be corrected or clarified. You can amend your complaint. The defendant also can update their answer.
Once the initial pleadings are complete, the next phase of litigation is discovery. This is the stage in which both sides demand information from the other. We’ll use various legal tools to gain more evidence, which helps us further evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case. Discovery can take months, depending on the complexities of your auto accident.
Admissions are facts the other side has to either admit, deny, or object to answering. You also can ask the other side to admit or deny the genuineness of documents. These are important to establish the basic facts in your case, so you don’t have to waste time on them at trial.
Interrogatories are questions that the other side has to either answer or object to answering. Illinois limits how many questions you can ask—sub-parts to questions included. Your questions have to be relevant to the case and can’t unnecessarily burden the defendant.
You can demand that the other side give you a copy or reproduction of relevant documents or objects. You also can demand they grant you access to real property to inspect it, have a survey performed, or run tests.
Depositions are out-of-court testimony. You can ask for a discovery deposition, which is to learn more about your case and a person’s involvement or knowledge. Or you can ask for an evidence deposition, which is about obtaining a person’s testimony, which you can then use at trial.
You and the other side can ask the judge to make decisions about your case before trial. Common motions include a motion to dismiss if the other side thinks you don’t have a relevant case, or you’ve made a technical mistake.
You might believe your case is so strong that you file a motion for summary judgment, asking the judge to decide in your favor without a trial. Other common motions involve arguing about whether evidence is relevant or admissible at trial.
If you and the defendant don’t resolve your case with a settlement, then your lawyer has to prepare for trial. This includes filing a brief with the judge outlining your arguments. The lawyers will meet with the judge to see if there’s any way to resolve the case without a trial.
You can have either a bench or a jury trial. If you allow the judge to decide the case, it’s called a bench trial. More likely, though, you’ll ask for a jury to decide your case.
Voir dire is the process of selecting a 12-person jury from a pool of residents where you filed your lawsuit. Each side can ask potential jurors questions and then object to certain people being on the jury. This process can move quickly or take a great deal of time, depending on the issues in the case.
A trial begins with opening statements. The plaintiff’s lawyer goes first and tells the jury what they can expect from the case. The defendant’s lawyer goes second and tells the jury about how they’ll refute the plaintiff’s arguments. Opening statements are just a preview of what’s to come for the jurors.
Each side gets to present evidence to the court through witness testimony and exhibits, which can be documents, objects, photos, videos, diagrams, and many other types of evidence. The plaintiff calls their witnesses first.
The defendant’s lawyer gets to cross-examine each witness too. Once your lawyer has submitted all of their evidence, then it’s the defendant’s turn to call witnesses and submit exhibits to the court. Your lawyer can cross-examine the defendant’s witnesses.
Once both sides finish offering evidence to the court, each lawyer makes a final statement to the jury.
Before jurors can talk amongst themselves about who is at fault, the judge has to give them their instructions. These are important. If the judge instructs the jurors incorrectly, it can impact the outcome of your case. The jurors get to deliberate for as long as they need to reach a decision. The verdict must be unanimous.
If the jury decides in favor of the defendant, a lawyer should review the trial record immediately. The lawyer should look for grounds for an appeal.
You can’t appeal your case simply because you disagree or think the jury wasn’t fair. The judge had to have made a mistake in the case that potentially affected the outcome. You have a brief period to file an appeal.
The appellate court isn’t a new trial. Instead, it reviews everything that happened during the trial and decides whether the verdict is appropriate, the verdict should be reversed, or whether you should have a new trial.
If you have any questions about whether you need to go to court or what litigation is like after a car accident, call Staver Accident Injury Lawyers, P.C. at (312) 236-2900. You also can send us your information through our online form.
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