The Anatomy of a Personal Injury Case

Setting the Scene 

Its 5:30 p.m. on a beautiful Friday afternoon.  You are driving home from work after a long and difficult week at the office.  As you approach one of the busiest intersections on your commute, you see that the light is green.  While passing through the intersection, you notice movement out of the corner of your eye. 

When you turn your head, you are met with a terrifying sight. 

Another car has run the red light, its driver distracted by the cell phone in his hand.  The other car is driving directly toward you.   

There is nothing you can do and nowhere you can go.

The next thing you remember is waking up in a hospital room, surrounded by doctors.  The doctors explain that you were in a terrible car accident, and that you have been in surgery for the last few hours to repair the broken arm, leg, and ribs on the left side of your body.  Your doctors inform you that your recovery will be long, painful, and difficult, and that your life may never be the same. 

While this hypothetical may be a terrifying prospect, severe and life-changing injuries can happen at any time, in any way, to anyone.  Many of these severe and life-changing injuries can occur as a result of the negligence (carelessness) of another person.  These injuries can result in substantial medical bills, pain and suffering, loss of the activities that once brought life joy and excitement, emotional and psychological distress, strained family relationships, and countless other negative side-effects.

Hiring a personal injury attorney may be intimidating for someone who does not know what to expect.  The purpose of this article is to walk through the average personal injury case, from start to finish. 

Hiring a Skilled Attorney

The first step in any personal injury case is to find a skilled attorney.  The attorney will want to discuss the details of the case.  The client should be prepared to bring whatever relevant documents they may have (for example, medical bills, medical records, witness statements, police reports, etc.) to the initial consultation. 

If the attorney and client decide to work together, the attorney will ask the client to sign a contract.  Many attorneys will take a certain percentage whatever amounts they are able to collect for the client, but the exact amount differs from attorney to attorney.  

After agreeing to represent the client, the attorney will typically begin collecting evidence, including the client’s medical bills, records, and whatever other documents he or she may need to handle the case. 

Depending on the case, the attorney may try to settle the case before filing a lawsuit.  For example, using the auto accident example above, the attorney may try to settle with the at-fault driver’s insurance company before filing suit.  If the attorney is not able to settle before the lawsuit, or if the attorney believes that pre-lawsuit settlement is unlikely, the attorney will file a “complaint” in the appropriate court. 

Filing a Lawsuit

The complaint is the document that starts the lawsuit.  The complaint is a legal document that explains the facts that are relevant to the lawsuit.  It also explains why the client has a valid legal argument against the person who injured them.  After filing the complaint, the attorney delivers the complaint to the person who caused the injured or accident.  The injured party is called the “plaintiff,” while the person who caused the injury is called the “defendant,” 

At this stage, depending on the case, the defendant may file certain “motions.”  A “motion” is a request that the court take (or not take) certain actions.  The defendant may ask the court to move the case to another courthouse in another location.  Or, the defendant may ask the court to get rid of the lawsuit all-together. 

Whenever a motion is filed, the parties submit their arguments in the form of a written “brief.” Many judges will set a “hearing” so that the attorneys can argue their positions in person.  Unfortunately, motions can be very time-consuming.  Some motions can take months to be resolved, sometimes longer if the motion is complicated.  Some cases can involve quite a few different motions at each stage of the lawsuit. 

There are many possible motions the defendant could file after receiving the complaint.  If the defendant chooses not to file a motion, or, once the defendant’s motions are resolved, the defendant will file a legal document called an “answer.”  In the answer, the defendant responds to each of the allegations in the complaint.  Once the defendant has filed their answer, the parties can move on to the next stage of the litigation: the “discovery” stage.

During the discovery stage, the parties exchange information.  The parties may send each other “interrogatories,” which are written questions that the other side has to answer.  The parties can also send each other “requests to produce,” which require the other side to turn over certain documents.  The parties can also take depositions.  Depositions are formal proceedings in which the attorneys get to question the plaintiff(s), defendant(s), potential witnesses, and experts. 

Once discovery is complete, the defendant may choose to file a “motion for summary judgment.”  In the motion for summary judgment, the defendant may ask the court to toss out the case (or aspects of the case) because the plaintiff does not have the evidence to prove a key component (or components) of their case.

If the plaintiff wins the motion for summary judgement, and the case is not dismissed, the parties prepare for trial.  Depending on the complexity of the case, the trial may last hours, or months.  Most personal injury cases are presented to a jury.  At the end of the trial, the jury delivers a verdict either in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant, depending on the evidence. 

Following the trial, the losing side has the option to appeal the case to a higher court.  By appealing the case, the losing side can argue that they should not have lost, and ask the higher court for a new trial.   

Keep in mind that even though the case is progressing through the legal process, the parties can always settle.  While many lawyers will always be ready to take the case to trial or to appeal if they lose at trial, they will also keep their eyes open for opportunities to settle the case out of court.   Some cases have settled in the middle of trial.  Other cases have settled after trial because the losing side threatened to appeal.  Every case is unique. 

Your Personal Injury Claim

To summarize, a personal injury case can be very simple and straightforward, or it can be very long and complex.  Not all cases are created equal, and therefore, the general timeline laid out in this article may not apply to every case. 

But anyone who has suffered an injury or loss as a result of another person’s negligence or carelessness should speak to a competent attorney about the merits of their case.  Life changing injuries can occur when we least expect them, and they can leave a lifetime of challenging consequences. 

If you have been injured, we invite you to contact the attorneys at Salvi, Salvi & Wifler, P.C.  The attorneys at SSW have been litigating personal injury cases throughout Cook, Lake, McHenry, Kane, and DuPage Counties for decades.  We will gladly put our wealth of experience to work for you.    

Categories: Personal Injury

DISCLAIMER: Every case is unique. The outcome of your legal case depends on many factors, including the facts of the case and the particular legal standards applicable to those facts. Salvi, Salvi & Wifler, P.C. and its attorneys make no guarantees, warranties, or predictions about the outcome of your legal case. Our prior results, including successful verdicts and settlements, do not guarantee a similar outcome in other cases.