Do personal injury cases go to trial? If you are unable to reach a settlement agreement with the at fault party, your personal injury case may go to trial. Personal injury cases usually involve either a formal lawsuit or an informal settlement. In the former, the plaintiff files a lawsuit against the other party for compensation. The latter involves negotiations between the parties, in which the matter is resolved through an agreed payment instead of going to court. If a settlement is not reached, the case goes to trial.
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Personal Injury Cases in Illinois
A personal injury lawsuit seeks financial compensation for losses suffered due to an accident. To win, you must prove the defendant is liable for your injuries and establish damages.
Common Types of Personal Injury Cases Filed in Illinois
You can categorize personal injury claims into common types in Illinois, such as:
Motor Vehicle Accident
Motor vehicle accidents cause a significant number of injuries and fatalities every year. You may have been injured as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian in a car accident. In that case, you may be eligible to receive compensation for your injuries and financial losses from the responsible driver.
Medical malpractice is a serious problem that can cause severe injuries as a result of the negligence of medical professionals such as doctors, nurses, hospitals, and others. Medical malpractice can take various forms such as misdiagnosis, incorrect treatment, surgical errors, medication mistakes, pharmacy errors, birth injuries, errors during the delivery of a child, and failure to diagnose serious medical conditions.
Wrongful death is a legal action that can be taken when a person is killed due to someone else’s negligence. This type of lawsuit typically arises from incidents such as car accidents, nursing home neglect, medical malpractice, construction accidents, or the use of a dangerous or defective product. A wrongful death lawsuit enables the recovery of damages unique and distinct from those available in non-fatal injuries.
Premises liability is a legal term that refers to accidents caused by dangerous or defective conditions on someone’s property. Premises liability accidents can happen anywhere, from commercial establishments to public or private areas. A wide range of hazardous or defective conditions can lead to a premises liability claim, including falls, trips, slips, and dog bites. It is important to document the condition as soon as possible. A personal injury attorney can help you with this and protect your legal rights throughout the entire process.
Defective and hazardous products have the potential to cause injuries. Inadequate warnings and instructions can also lead to injuries. Such harmful products include dangerous drugs, contaminated food, defective consumer goods, children’s products, defective vehicle parts, medical devices, and toxic materials or chemicals. The responsible parties could be individuals, businesses, or government entities that sold, designed, manufactured, or marketed the dangerous or defective product.
How Do Pre-Trial Phases Work in a Personal Injury Case?
The pretrial phase refers to the time between the start of legal proceedings with your attorney and the actual trial. During this phase, both parties will get ready for the trial. This includes exchanging information, also known as discovery, where each side requests and provides relevant documents, interrogatories, and depositions. Accident lawyers may plan, review evidence, interview witnesses, and work to strengthen your case.
Pretrial motions may also be filed, which can significantly impact the case, such as summary judgement in your favor as the victim, or summary dismissal, which could get your case thrown out of court. Experienced legal representation is critical for anticipating and responding to these motions.
Two crucial aspects of the pretrial phase are the initial consultation with your attorney to begin the process and negotiation and settlement agreements, which help you decide whether to settle before going to court or proceed with litigation.
Initial Consultation With an Attorney
The initial consultation is a chance for you to talk to a personal injury lawyer and get advice on your case. Be sure to research how to find a good personal injury attorney. To prepare, gather any documents or evidence that might be relevant to your case, such as accident reports, medical records, photographs, witness statements, and any correspondence with insurance companies. Also, make a list of questions or concerns you have for your attorney.
During the consultation, your lawyer will evaluate the strength of your case by assessing factors such as liability and causation. Your lawyer will know how personal injury damages are calculated and evaluate them. Based on this evaluation, your lawyer may give you an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of your case and offer guidance on the best way forward.
Negotiation and Settlement Attempts
Negotiations are an essential part of personal injury cases, as they offer a chance to settle the matter fairly without going to trial.
During negotiations, your personal injury lawyer will have discussions with the opposing party or his or her insurance company. Settlement offers may be presented by the other party or the insurance company throughout this process.
Your personal injury lawyer will evaluate these offers based on your injuries, damages, and the strength of your case. He or she will consider factors such as medical expenses, lost wages, future damages, and pain and suffering to determine the proposed amount of compensation.
If the initial settlement offer is not satisfactory, your personal injury lawyer may counteroffer with a different amount or negotiate for better terms. If both parties can agree on a satisfactory settlement, a legally binding settlement agreement is created.
Settlement agreements outline the terms and conditions of the agreed-upon settlement, including the amount of compensation, the release of liability, and any other specific terms to your case. It’s essential to review these agreements carefully before accepting them, and your personal injury lawyer will explain any included provisions to ensure you understand your rights and obligations.
Once you have reviewed and accepted the settlement agreement, the process of finalizing the settlement begins. This involves signing the agreement and submitting it to the opposing party or their insurance company, and receiving payment.
How Does the Trial Process Work in Illinois?
In a personal injury trial, the judge or jury will review all the evidence presented in the case to determine whether the defendant is liable for the injuries sustained by the plaintiff. If the defendant is found liable, the judge or jury will also decide the extent of the plaintiff’s liability. Typically, a personal injury trial consists of six phases:
- The process of selecting a jury
- The opening statements made by attorneys at the beginning of a trial
- The presentation of evidence by both sides
- The questioning of witnesses by both sides
- The closing arguments made by attorneys before the jury begins deliberations
- The jury discusses and decides on a verdict
Selection of a Jury and the Role of the Judge
A personal injury case can be decided either by a judge in a bench trial or by a jury, depending on several factors such as requests made by the parties, the amount in controversy, the nature of the injury, the jurisdiction of the court, or the background of the parties involved.
In a bench trial, the judge has to determine both questions of law and questions of fact. However, in a jury trial, the judge only decides questions of law. The judge’s primary role in deciding questions of law is to determine any issues regarding the interpretation or application of a law, any issue regarding the relevant law, or an issue of fact that is reserved for judges. The judge’s role with regard to questions of fact, in a bench trial, is to weigh the strength of evidence and credibility of witnesses.
In cases tried before a jury, the jury selection process is crucial. During this process, a pool of potential jurors is questioned by a judge, and the plaintiff and defendant’s attorneys. They will often inquire about any personal biases that a juror might have. These may include ideological predispositions or life experiences. At this stage, the judge can excuse any potential jurors based on their responses to questions.
Both the plaintiff and the defendant’s attorneys can exclude a certain number of jurors by using “peremptory challenges” and “challenges for cause.” A juror can be excluded through a peremptory challenge, which allows for any reason, including gender and ethnicity. A challenge for cause is utilized to exclude a juror who has demonstrated that he or she cannot remain truly impartial when deciding the case.
Presentation of Evidence
After a jury is selected, and opening statements, both sides are allowed to present evidence and challenge each other’s evidence. Common types of evidence in an injury case may include photos of the accident scene and the injuries, witness statements (including your own), medical evidence of your injury, video surveillance footage, and testimony on accident scenes.