Any type of lawsuit, whether it be personal injury, breach of contract, or otherwise, is initiated by the filing of a complaint. The complaint lays out the basic facts of who the parties to the suit are, what the case is about, and what the plaintiff (in a personal injury case that is the victim who suffered the injury) is claiming the other party did wrong that caused an injury. The complaint gets filed by the plaintiff with the court clerk, and the case is then assigned to a judge so the lawsuit can proceed. In general, complaints need to conform with one of two standards, "notice pleading" or "fact pleading." Which applies depends on where the case is filed. A complaint in a personal injury lawsuit in Illinois courts is subject to fact pleading, meaning the complaint must lay out facts, not mere generalizations about the basis of the claim, including details. For example, in a personal injury case for a car accident, things like the name of the responsible driver, where the accident occurred, and specifically what the plaintiff feels the defendant did wrong that was negligent, must be alleged. These are just a few basic facts about the complaint that initiates a personal injury case in Illinois. There are many more intricate details that need to be addressed before a complaint will be found to be proper and an injury case allowed to proceed. That is why a qualified personal injury attorney is an injured victim's best advocate when a matter needs to proceed into litigation in order for the injured party to have the best chance to be compensated fully for his or her injuries.
In civil litigation, the most powerful tool an experienced attorney has for uncovering the truth of what happened is discovery. Discovery is the term to describe when the parties to a lawsuit not only exchange information amongst themselves, but also are allowed to investigate further and ask question, get documents, and otherwise work to piece together just what took place. One of the most important steps in that search is the deposition. Despite how TV and movies portray it, a deposition is a rather informal event where a person (the "deponent") is asked a series of questions under oath. Depositions can take place just about anywhere: lawyer's offices, the courthouse, or even a deponent's home (which happens often when the deponent is the injured victim in a personal injury case). A court reporter administers an oath where the deponent swears to tell the truth, and then all parties to the case, usually through their attorneys, can ask questions about almost anything relevant to the case. In Illinois, a deposition is limited to three hours, but can be extended in complicated cases, or under certain circumstances. Other jurisdictions, including federal courts, have different time limits. Now, a deposition is not an interrogation along the lines of what makes for good entertainment. It is usually very cordial (although any personal injury attorney with some experience will have a few good "war stories" about the goings on of a memorable deposition). After all the questions are asked, the court reporter usually prepares a transcript, and the testimony is preserved. This can be used to not only inform all the parties of what the deponent knows, but also used to "impeach" the witness at trial, if the case goes that far, and the person testifies. To impeach someone is simply to show that they have changed their story. A deposition is just one of many tools an experienced personal injury attorney, or any litigation attorney, will use in pursuing a case on behalf of a client. While a deposition may sound simple, it is a subtle art to get the deponent to say what is most important to support a case. In injury cases this could be anything from, "what color was the traffic light" to "was it a breach of the standard of care for Dr. Smith to do X?" That is why, if you or someone you care about is injured and it is not their fault, employing the services of a qualified, experienced personal injury attorney is one of the most important steps to take to make sure that full compensation is available.
Many people do not realize when they are hurt, even in a minor accident, that a good personal injury attorney is an invaluable resource. Some people try to just "handle it on their own," thinking if something is small in their mind, it is not worth bringing in a personal injury attorney. But, if you have never been in an accident before, how do you know what you are doing? How do you know what your case is worth? Are you really in a position to determine that your case is "small?" That is what a qualified personal injury lawyer is there to help with. Valuing a claim requires extensive experience in personal injury law, and county by county experience is also important, as the exact same case can be worth several times more in one county of Illinois versus another. When an insurance company offers you money for your claim, if you just say, "that sounds fair," how do you know that? You need someone who can help you not only determine the fair value for your injury, whether it be from a car accident, nursing home mistake, slip and fall, construction site injury, or anything else, but also how to maximize any recovery. Medical liens have also become a major issue to be dealt with in personal injury cases. Most people do not realize that even if your health insurance company pays for your medical treatment after an accident, you may be obligated to pay any money your receive for your injuries back to your insurance company. A good personal injury lawyer can not only help navigate that, but use the law to get the amount you need to reimburse your insurance company reduced -- putting more money in your pocket. Injured victims are simply not equipped to deal with sophisticated lienholders looking to get paid. When you are in an accident, with respect to financial issues, the hospitals, doctors, insurance companies, etc. are NOT on your side and are NOT looking out for you. When you retain a personal injury attorney, that person is required to be loyal to you and look out specifically for your best interest, no one else's. That is why consulting a lawyer after any type of injury caused by an accident is the most important thing you can do to put you in the best position for a financial recovery as well as a medical one.