When most people think of lawsuits, they picture what happens at trial: two attorneys in a courtroom asking questions of witnesses before a judge and jury. But lawsuits involve much more than just what happens in the courtroom. To help visitors to our blog understand what is involved in a lawsuit, this post provides a basic overview of the phases of an Illinois personal injury lawsuit.
Phases of a Lawsuit
Before filing a lawsuit, an attorney will investigate a plaintiff’s claim and try to negotiate a settlement with the defendant. Many personal injury claims are settled without even filing a lawsuit.
- Filing the Lawsuit: Pleadings
If a claim cannot be settled before the statute of limitations runs, the plaintiff’s attorney will file a complaint, which is the formal pleading that begins a lawsuit. The complaint (sometimes called a petition) will include:
- The names of the parties to the lawsuit
- Basic information about what happened
- Causes of action, which explain how what happened entitles the plaintiff to legal relief
- A prayer for relief, which requests one or more legal remedies from the court, such as damages
To respond to the complaint, the defendant will file an answer. The answer will typically deny what the complaint claims and include a list of other defenses that the defendant thinks should defeat the plaintiff’s claim. (For example, one of these defenses will almost always be, “It’s the plaintiff’s fault!”)
After all defendants have filed an answer, the parties begin the discovery process. Discovery is a mechanism through which each party to a lawsuit can discover all relevant evidence in the possession of the other party (or parties). Illinois recognizes several different methods of discovery:
- Depositions, where witnesses are questioned under oath outside of court.
- Written interrogatories, which are requests for information from one party to another.
- Discovery of documents, objects, or tangible things, and inspection of real estate. These allow the parties to access, inspect, or copy any physical or electronic evidence that another party has in its possession.
- Requests to admit, which are used to clarify what issues are in dispute.
- Physical and mental examinations by a licensed professional whenever a person’s physical or mental condition is in controversy.
- Pretrial Disposition
Even after a lawsuit is filed, very few of them actually go to trial. Most are simply settled and dismissed by the agreement of the parties.
If the lawsuit is not settled, there are other forms of pretrial disposition available. A court may grant a motion for summary judgment if there are no genuine issues of material fact in the case. However, most personal injury lawsuits that get this far in the process have genuine issues of material fact. If they didn’t, the parties would have most likely settled them already.
Trial is the part of a lawsuit that comes to most people’s minds when they think about lawsuits. During trial, the plaintiff’s and defendant’s attorneys will call witnesses and present evidence to the jury. The jury acts as “fact-finder,” deciding what actually happened based on the evidence presented. The jury makes findings of fact in its verdict.
Normally, the judge will then enter judgment on the jury’s verdict. If the judgment is in the plaintiff’s favor, it will order the defendant to pay the plaintiff for his or her damages, as determined by the jury.
Either party may appeal a judgment to the Illinois Appellate Court. The Appellate Court will review the judgment and the proceedings in the trial court to ensure that the law was followed. If a party is dissatisfied with the Appellate Court’s disposition, he or she can seek review by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Phases of a Lawsuit – Conclusion
As you can see, personal injury lawsuits in Illinois are much more than just the in-court proceedings so often portrayed on TV. Navigating the complexities of Illinois law to successfully build a winning personal injury case requires the help of a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. If you’ve been injured by another person’s wrongdoing, contact us here at Costa Ivone, and we can help build that case for you.