Your Case: From Demand To Trial
Often times in a personal injury case, you will hear your Attorney say “if we are not able to resolve your case through settlement, we will take it to trial”. But what does the process of settling and going to trial entail? In a personal injury case, once an injured person aka Plaintiff completes their medical care and treatment or are at a point where there is definite prospective treatment that is recommended the Attorney acting on their behalf will submit a settlement demand. Once a demand is submitted more likely than not if liability on behalf of the person causing the injury aka Defendant is clear, an offer will be extended by the insurance company insuring the Defendant. This is not to say that the offer will be reasonable. Sometimes after the initial demand is made and an offer is extended, there maybe several rounds of negotiations. The negotiations maybe successful and parties maybe able to settle the case. However, there are times when negotiations are of no avail and the Attorney will have to file your case on your behalf in order to obtain a better recovery.
Absent some jurisdictional issues, most cases will be filed in the county that your accident took place. The filing of a case starts with filling of a document called complaint which includes various allegations the Plaintiff is claiming against the Defendant. The complaint will not only allege the wrongful or negligent acts on behalf of the Defendant but will also allege injuries that are caused by those acts and the damages the Plaintiff is seeking. Once a complaint is filed, the Defendant must either file an answer or a motion. In the answer, the Defendant is to answer the allegations raised against him in the complaint. In lieu of an answer, a Defendant is allowed to file responsive motion essentially raising various legal issues or defects with the complaint if any exists. If the plaintiff is able to correct the deficiencies in the complaint or otherwise successfully argue that the complaint is not deficient, then the Defendant has to answer to the complaint.
Once the complaint is answered, parties usually will engage in written discovery. This is achieved by each party sending the other party a set of questions called interrogatories, and a list of documents that each party is to produce. The parties will sometime also serve upon the other party request to admit, essentially asking the party to admit or deny an existence of a fact. Once the written discovery is completed, parties usually will conduct oral discovery. This is where discovery depositions are taken place. Both parties have the right to questions the other party or any witnesses that are to testify at trial. This also includes any medical doctors that are to provide testimony at trial. The time limit allowed in Illinois for any discovery deposition is up to three hours. The purpose of the discovery deposition is basically to discover facts or discover the opinion of a witness that they are to provide at the time of trial.
Once all written and verbal discovery is completed, the case becomes ready for a trial. At this time, if the case cannot be resolved via settlement, then parties will meet with the presiding Judge and request a trial date. Most personal injury cases that go to trial, go to a jury trial. Prior to proceeding to trial, parties may have to take evidence depositions. An evidence deposition is testimony that is secured of a witness for the purpose of using it at trial. An evidence deposition is a recorded testimony and is usually taken of an expert due to being less costly than live testimony of a medical doctor or expert.
Once the trial starts, jury selection begins, opening arguments are made and testimony of various witnesses including Plaintiff and Defendant is presented. After all the evidence is presented, parties will make closing arguments. In the closing arguments, the Attorneys for the respective parties will suggest to the members of jury as to what they believe their award should be. The jury members are advised as to the law by the presiding judge and given a chance to deliberate and render a verdict. The members of the jury remain free to decide What they award. While they can consider the arguments and the suggestions made by the respective Attorneys, they are not bound by it. This means that once your case goes to trial, only jurors get to decide the true value of your case.