If I Hire a Lawyer, Does That Mean I am Going to Court?
Barry: Well the first thing that we have to do after getting the file opened up on in our office is do our investigation, and that's going to vary from case to case and by case type as to exactly what's involved. It may be as simple as getting a police report and some medical records, it may be interviewing witnesses, going out and taking pictures at the scene of an accident, doing some public records requests. It's going to vary, but we want to make sure that we have a solid basis for taking a case on before we actually put the case into suit and continue on with things.
From there, if it's a case that we think is going to be amenable to pre-suit resolution, we're going to send off a Notice of Representation to the insurance company, and one of the things that actually leads people to call a lawyers office is, they're getting calls from the insurance company all the time, wanting to talk about the case, wanting to talk about settling it, and they just want them off their back.
Once we send that Notice of Representation off to the insurance company, right. Exactly. There are no more phone calls being made, and that's one less thing that people have to deal with after an accident.
If the case is one that is suitable for pre-suit resolution, then I always tell the client "The most important thing for you to do at that point is take care of business from a medical perspective. Follow up with what your doctors are suggesting, but keep us informed with what's going on." If the case is one that is not suitable for pre-suit resolution, then we make a determination fairly quickly. It's time to file the case, and, at which case, we file the lawsuit, the Sheriff goes out and serves the Defendant with the Summons, they turn it over to the insurance company, the insurance company hires lawyers to defend the person who is at fault for the accident, and away we go.
Pam: So what happens when the case is filed?
Barry: The first step is what's called written discovery. Each side sends the other a set of written questions and a request for documents. You swap those back and forth, each side answers them. Once that's done, then the next step would be depositions, and that's the question and answer session with the other lawyer. My client gives one, I do depositions of the Defendant or their employees, independent witnesses might get subpoenaed to come in for depositions, it depends on the particular facts of the case and what needs to be done for everyone to really firmly have their arms around exactly what happened with the case.
This whole process that leads up to the case going to trial is called discovery, and the ultimate objective for this is so that both sides, the insurance company and the injured party has a sense of what the merits of the case are and can assess their own risks in going forward.
Once the fact depositions are done, typically the next thing that's done are doctors depositions. And the reasons that doctors need to be deposed is the basis for any kind of a jury where it is the nature and extent of the damages, and part of that includes proving that you had various injuries that were caused by the accident. Doctors get asked about "What are the injuries that you treated, were they causally related to the incident that's at issue in the law suit, and what's the long term prognosis for the patient that you treated? Will they have ongoing pain as a result of the accident, will they have ongoing disability, will the injuries that they suffered inhibit their ability to work in the future?"
After that, each side has an opportunity to hire expert witnesses for whatever issues there are involved in the case, depositions are done of the expert witnesses, and finally the case goes to trial.
Pam: So Barry, break it down. How long does it take for a case to get resolved?
Barry: Typically, these cases are resolved by way of a jury trial, which means that the Judge makes rulings as to what evidence comes in, tells the jury what the law is, but ultimately, the jury gets to decide the issues of both liability and the amount of the damages that are going to be awarded. It's a fairly long process.
In the Chicago area, in Cook and the collar counties, typically, the time from when you file a lawsuit until when you actually end up in front of a Judge and jury is two and a half to three years. It can be shorter if it's a relatively simple case in the sense of the issues aren't terribly complex, but it can be much longer if you end up in a case where you have lots of Defendants in the case, if it's really complicated legal issues and so forth, then you can have cases that go on for four, five, six years. Hopefully not, but the cases sometimes do last that long.