What happens after a lawsuit is filed?
At this stage, we have put together a strong demand package for you and sent it to the responsible party's insurance company-offering to settle the claim. This packet included all your medical bills and records as well as an explanation as to why the responsible party should pay on the claim. If we determine you need to file suit, it is because the responsible party refused to pay or disputed the amount he, she, or it should pay. Once suit is filed, you are known as the "Plaintiff" and the responsible party is known as the "Defendant." While all cases have the potential to go through each of these steps, keep in mind the vast majority never make it to the last steps. Most cases settle prior to trial. However, our firm prepares as though every case is going to trial.
First Step: Draft and File a Complaint
With your input, we draft a documents which is called a "Complaint." In this document, we put forth all of the ways in which the other party caused your injuries. We outline what categories of damages you have sustained, including lost wages, medical bills, loss of life, disfigurement, future surgery, among others. This is our chance to tell the Court what happened.
Second Step: The Complaint is Served
Service simply means we take the Complaint and have it personally delivered to the responsible party. This process, unfortunately, can take several weeks because Illinois requires us to deliver the Complaint to the responsible party or in the case of an individual, a person residing at the household of the individual. There are difference rules for service depending on whether the responsible party is a person or a company. If there are multiple responsible parties, we must serve each.
Third Step: Responsible Party Files an Answer
Much like the Complaint is our opportunity to tell the Court our side, the responsible party has an opportunity to tell the Court his, her, or its side. This is known as an "Answer." It just means, the other side is answering the allegations of your Complaint. Many times the responsible party will respond by admitting liability for harming you but denying that you were injured to the extent you are claiming. This happens in rear-end car wrecks.
Fourth Step: Written Discovery is Exchanged
Prior to filing suit, we did an investigation for you. We gathered your facts and damages and provided them to the other side in the demand package to settle your claim. This step is similar except you get to "discover" all the facts and evidence the responsible party intends to produce at trial. In addition, responsible party gets to discover all the facts and information you intend to produce at trial. That is why the process is called discovery because we are literally discovering what each side knows and believes. This written discovery process can last months because each side has 28 days to respond to the other side's written discovery requests.
Fifth Step: Depositions of You and The Responsible Party
By this step, you and the responsible party have exchanged written discovery. We generally know what the other side believes the case is about and what defenses the responsible party will claim. Now, we get the opportunity to put the responsible party under oath and ask him, her, or a company representative questions. This is called a deposition. In addition, the responsible party gets to put you under oath and ask you questions. This step can happen in one day or last several weeks and months as the parties arrange the time and place of the questioning.
Sixth Step: Deposition of Witnesses and Experts
Not all cases involve witnesses and experts, but the majority of cases do. What is an expert? An expert is someone who has knowledge that a lay person does not. Think about a doctor. Your treating physicians are experts. They have knowledge that was acquired through years of specialized training and experience. Your treating doctor can give an opinion as to what caused your injuries, how long said injuries will last, among other topics. In addition, the responsible party may hire experts to help in the defense of the case. These defense experts could include other doctors, accident reconstruction experts, and safety consultants.
When the other side hires a doctor as an expert in your case, the insurance company is hiring someone who will give an opinion favorable to them. This is known as an IME. What is an IME really? We given you a short video about IMEs and provide more content about IMEs here.
Seventh Step: Trial
You have seen courtroom dramas play out on television and movies. Injury trials can last as few as a day or several weeks depending on the complication of the case. The majority seem to take at least two or three days. Prior to trial, we will let you know how long your case will take to try. Your case may be tried in front of a jury or a judge. Some cases are settled at trial. Others go to verdict. A verdict is where the jury receives the case, deliberates, and comes back with a verdict in favor of you (Plaintiff) or the responsible party (Defendant). If the jury comes back in your favor, the jury will assign a number value to your damages.
A case can settle even after a jury verdict. That is because each side has a right to appeal. However, an appeal is not a do-over. It is an opportunity for the losing side (and sometimes the winning side) to show a higher court there was a mistake and the verdict should be changed or a new trial should occur.