Our office is routinely contacted by injured people asking for an attorney to represent them in a class action case for their personal injuries, or, asking if there is already a class action case going for the type of bodily injury they suffered. Thanks to the popular media, and abundant legal advertising by injury attorneys in Illinois and elsewhere, many people wrongfully believe that you can be part of a class action case for personal injuries suffered. Here in Illinois, there is no such thing. Class action cases are brought on behalf of a group of people who were "injured" in some similar way, caused by the same facts, where the injuries are essentially the same for everyone. The "injury" is not to the body, but is usually financial. A good example is an environmental case where a company dumps a toxic chemical in a neighborhood and the property values of all the homes surrounding it are decreased. Our firm has handled many such environmental class action cases. However, cases where that same chemical dumping is involved, but the injuries are personal injuries (such as the development of cancers linked to the chemical) cannot be part of a class action. The reason: they are inherently personal injuries, not identical across the group; the "personal" in "personal injury." Now, when something happens and many people suffer personal injuries as a result of some type of wrongdoing, such as through use of a defective medical device or drug, some injury attorneys will handle the cases together and try and get them consolidated into a group and put on the same track. But they are still each distinct cases and thus, not a "class" (which is generally more than 50 people) under the law. Do not be confused, in the eyes of the law a "class action" and "consolidated cases" are two very different things. Whether you are part of a class, injured in a situation that must be brought as an individual case, or just wonder what your legal rights are, only a qualified attorney can properly advise you on the law. Do not rely on what you see in the media or in advertisements. If you are injured, or have questions on your legal rights, you should contact an experienced lawyer without delay.
It has previously been discussed on this blog that you should be careful what you sign, as you may not realize you are waiving your rights to recover for a personal injury you suffer due to someone else's negligence. But, it is not just outright waiving your right to recover for injuries that you need to be aware of these days. There are more and more things out there that people are being asked to sign that restrict their ability to have a jury of their peers decide what they are entitled to as compensation for personal injuries. Waiving your right to a jury trial means that while you may be able to sue for your injuries, that lawsuit will be decided by a judge, and not a jury. This is not always the best way for you, or your attorney on your behalf, to get you the maximum recovery you are entitled to. The right to a jury trial in a civil case for personal injuries is an important one that should not be waived without serious thought. The same is true of mandatory arbitration provisions. These often force an injury victim to pursue compensation in a non-court, private setting. This could result in a situation where you, the injured victim, are forced to incur tens of thousands of dollars in costs to pay an arbitrator to decide if you are entitled to any compensation for your injuries. In many instances, a personal injury lawsuit is a better option for an injured victim to seek justice. Before you sign any document that effects your rights, make sure you understand what you are agreeing to. If you do not understand what is presented to you, talk to an attorney. He or she can advise you about the consequences of what you are being asked to sign, in terms of personal injury claims, and other legal issues.
After a fairly dreary spring here in Chicagoland, the weather has turned, and we can all enjoy the outdoors. For many people this also means it is time to dust of the motorcycles and head out for a bike ride. Whether you choose to ride a motorcycle or not, if you are on the roads you need to be aware that motorcycles are out there. Many motorcycle accidents that occur are the result of operators of cars not seeing a bike on the road. Hence the slogan, "Start Seeing Motorcycles" which has become popular. The negligence of other motorists causes numerous crashes which cause motorcycle injuries. Motorcyclists need to do their part too, not only keeping a lookout for the very motorists who do not see them, but also making it easy to been seen by others. As taught in many basic rider courses, motorcyclists should shy away from all black outfits, dark riding gear, and even dark colored bikes. Retro-reflective accents, bright jackets, and easy to see helmets can all literally save your life on a motorcycle as they can help make you visible to another driver on the road who otherwise might not see you. But, while it is very difficult to prevent the negligence of another driver on the road, there is one thing that every motorcycle rider can do to help prevent serious personal injury while riding a bike: wear a helmet. While Illinois does not require helmets (nor do 30 other states, when it comes to adult riders) wearing a proper fitting helmet is the single best step you can take with your gear to save your life if a motorcycle accident should occur. Personal injury attorneys encounter motorcycle accidents all the time, and one of the first questions an injury attorney will ask a rider involved in a motorcycle crash is: "were you wearing a helmet?" Sadly, if the victim is unable to answer due to catastrophic injury, or death, the attorney usually already knows the answer. Be safe on the roads, and be mindful of motorcycles, whether you ride or not. If you do ride a motorcycle, and are injured in a crash, contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible so you can be informed about what your rights are, and how to handle any claims you may have. For all you riders out there, enjoy the riding season, and safe travels.
Mediation is a form of "alternative dispute resolution" where the parties agree to let a person outside of the proceedings (often called a "neutral") get involved to try and settle the matter. It can happen at any time during a personal injury matter: before a personal injury case is filed, during the discovery phase, or right before trial. Mediation usually takes place in a conference-room, and not a court room, as it is not an adversarial proceeding, but an attempt at settlement and compromise. Most mediators or neutrals in personal injury cases are retired judges or lawyers with extensive experience handling personal injury matters. A mediator does not decide a case. Rather, s/he hears the positions of the parties, and then works to help both sides reach an agreeable settlement. The mediator cannot require any party to settle, and is not there to decide who is right and who is wrong. Here is how the process works: Typically, at the outset of a mediation, each side makes an initial presentation, and sets out an opening settlement position (either a demand or offer). Following the initial presentations, the mediator shuttles back and forth between the parties, presenting positions conveyed to her or him by the other side, asking for responses. More importantly, an experienced mediator will also inject ideas for how the case may be settled, and the mediator will highlight for each party the weaknesses in their case, as well as the strengths, so that the parties themselves can appreciate the realistic chances for success if the injury matter progresses all the way to a trial. Sometimes mediations are successful, and the case settles and progresses no further. Other times a mediation fails to result in a settlement, but can lead to ongoing negotiations to try and settle the case before the case is determined by a jury. And, of course, sometimes the parties simply cannot settle the dispute, and a trial results. An experienced personal injury attorney can properly advise you as to if and when you, as the injured victim, should consider agreeing to a mediation proposed by the defendant (and more typically its insurance company) or if you should propose a mediation yourself. Mediations can be very effective in injury cases in which pre-trial settlement is in both parties' interests, but for whatever reason, they have been unable to reach settlement on their own. Whether you chose to pursue mediation as a way to settle your injury case or not, having a lawyer on your side who is familiar with the process, and can give you an accurate estimation of your chances for success, is an invaluable resource in getting you the compensation you deserve.