For most, the car accident lawsuit process can be intimidating. When you suffer injuries in a car accident that was someone else’s fault, recovering just compensation usually involves dealing with the insurance companies. If that process goes smoothly—and if you have an experienced lawyer on your side—it will ideally end with a fair settlement that allows you to move on with your life.
But, what if it doesn’t?
If the insurance companies are unwilling to offer a fair settlement, you may need to take your case to court. In this scenario, you will need your lawyer to file a lawsuit on your behalf, and your lawyer will need to take your case through the litigation process. In litigation, there are no guarantees, and your lawyer will need to be able to rely on his or her abilities and experience to fight for just compensation on your behalf.
If you have recently been injured in a car accident, litigation is far down the road—and it might never come. But, it is still a good idea to know what to expect if the insurance companies aren’t willing to negotiate. With this in mind, here is a brief overview of the car accident lawsuit process in Illinois:
The legal document (or “pleading”) that is used to initiate a lawsuit is called a “Complaint.” Your lawyer will prepare your Complaint, naming the party (or parties) that are responsible for the accident as the “Defendants.” Your Complaint will explain why the Defendant(s) are liable for your losses, and it will include a demand for damages. These are the losses you are seeking to recover through your lawsuit.
After your lawyer files your complaint, the Defendant(s) will need to file an “Answer.” You can expect them to wait until the deadline (in most cases), and you can expect their Answer to deny all of the allegations in your Complaint. This is completely normal, and it has no bearing on the potential outcomes of your lawsuit.
Once the litigation process gets going, the judge will set a schedule for the remainder of the proceedings. The judge’s schedule will set deadlines and dates for things like:
Discovery is the process of obtaining information in support of a claim or defense in litigation. During the discovery process, your lawyer will serve each defendant with interrogatories (written questions), document requests, and requests for admissions. You can expect to receive each of these requests from the Defendant(s) as well. Your lawyer will assist you with responding to these requests, and your lawyer will use the information obtained from the Defendant(s) to further build your case for just compensation.
From the start of discovery through trial, your lawyer may file various pre-trial motions. The lawyers representing the Defendant(s) may file various pre-trial motions as well. These motions can be used for a variety of purposes, from seeking to exclude evidence to seeking to have the judge decide certain substantive issues before your trial date arrives.
When you file a lawsuit, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you will need to fight for just compensation in court. Even once a Complaint has been filed, car accident cases still can—and frequently do—settle. If it is in your best interests to settle, your lawyer will work to negotiate a deal while simultaneously continuing to prepare your case for trial.
Finally, if a fair settlement isn’t on the table, your lawyer will take your case to trial. Your trial will start with the jury selection process (if you request a jury trial), and it will end with the judge or jury rendering a verdict. In between, the lawyers for both sides will present witness testimony and other forms of evidence, and they will make their case for why the judge or jury should rule in their client’s favor.
Given all of the various steps involved, the car accident lawsuit process can easily take a year or longer. While this sounds like—and is—a long time, it will be well worth it if you have substantial losses you are entitled to recover. When you hire a lawyer to represent you, your lawyer will help you decide whether filing a lawsuit makes sense; and, if it does, your lawyer will handle the entire litigation process on your behalf.
If you have been injured in a car accident and have questions about filing a lawsuit, we invite you to schedule a FREE, no-obligation consultation at Coplan + Crane. To speak with a lawyer about your legal rights as soon as possible, call (708) 358-8080 or contact us confidentially online today.