Personal injury cases arise when someone's action or inaction leads to the injury of another. Proving a personal injury claim can be complicated, and Illinois has specific rules to regulate the process.
The Appropriate Filing Jurisdiction
In legal terms, jurisdiction refers to a court's legal authority to decide the outcome of a case. The court with jurisdiction is usually:
- Where the incident leading to your injury occurred
- Where the defendant lives
Sometimes rules of evidence or other considerations can make it more advantageous to file in one jurisdiction over another.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations refers to the amount of time you have to file your lawsuit after your injury. In Illinois, that time limit is two years.
The First Steps
In Illinois, your complaint must contain enough specific facts to show you have a claim. This is called fact-based pleading.
After you file your complaint, the court clerk issues a summons notifying the defendant of your suit and explaining how to respond. The county sheriff usually serves the summons. The defendant has a set amount of time in which to file an answer, either admitting or denying your allegations.
The Discovery Process
After the initial filings, both sides begin the discovery process to uncover the true facts of the case. Various discovery methods are commonly used:
- Interrogatories are written questions to be answered under oath.
- Depositions are oral interviews conducted under oath. Plaintiffs, defendants and witnesses may all be deposed.
- Requests to produce documents allow either side to ask for things such as medical records, pictures and witness statements.
You may also be required to allow the defendant's doctors to examine you, but you can request that your lawyer be present at the exam.
Types of Damages Available
The most common damages awarded in personal injury cases are compensatory. As the name suggests, these compensate you for your injury. They may be actual losses, also called economic losses, such as medical bills and lost wages, or they may be general non-economic losses, such as for pain and suffering.
In some cases you may be eligible for punitive damages. These are awarded solely to punish the defendant and are usually only appropriate in cases where the defendant intentionally hurt you.
The Role of Fault in Awarding Damages
Illinois follows a modified comparative fault rule to determine eligibility for damages. It uses a 51 percent bar, so you may only receive damages if you are less than 51 percent at fault for the incident.
Settlement, Mediation or Trial
Many personal injury cases never go to trial. Sometimes the parties are able to negotiate settlement terms on their own. At other times, they may need a neutral third party called a mediator to help them find common ground.
If you cannot settle and you go to trial, the first step is seating the jury in a process called voir dire. Next come opening statements, which give a brief overview of the case from each side's perspective. After the jury hears all the evidence, the testimony of witnesses, and closing arguments, it makes its final verdict.
Paying for a Personal Injury Lawyer
Lawyers generally take a personal injury case on contingency, meaning they get a percentage of your damages if your suit is successful. Make sure you have agreed to a specific percentage before moving forward with your case.
Get Qualified Legal Advice
Personal injury cases can involve many different aspects of the law. Much depends on the type of injury and the incident that caused it. An experienced lawyer can help you determine which laws apply to your case and help present a strong argument in your favor.