You have hired a Chicago personal injury lawyer to prosecute your case. It seems straightforward, your injuries are serious, and you really need the money, which you strongly believe you are entitled to because of the defendant's negligence. So why do cases often take 2-3 years to get to trial or settle?
Courthouses are like expressways on a Friday afternoon before a national holiday — there is a lot of traffic though the distance to travel may be short. Upon filing a personal injury lawsuit, your personal injury case is assigned a number (non-personal injury cases are assigned a different number). That number dictates the order in which your case passes through the court system. The overarching principle governing management of cases is to give both parties (the defendant and plaintiff) a fair opportunity to present their claims to a jury, a constitutional right dating back to the time our country was founded. Courts are reluctant to decide the outcome of a case based on technical legal grounds rather than on their merits.
After filing suit, service by the Sheriff is to be made on the defendant within 30 days. Thereafter, the defendant has 30 days to hire a personal injury lawyer to file an appearance in court. What happens if service is not made within 30 days such as if the defendant cannot be located or if the defendant does not file his appearance? Actually, nothing happens: the plaintiff will ask the Court for more time to effect service of the complaint; the defendant will ask the Court to vacate technical defaults if an appearance is filed late. The Court will almost always grant these extensions so that the parties can present their claims to a jury rather than impose judgment on procedural grounds.
Once the parties are properly before the Court, "homework" assignments—where the parties are expected to perform certain specified work within a given time frame—are given. These assignments occur at regular intervals, in what are called Case Management Conferences.
A specific protocol is followed in personal injury litigation. First the parties engage in "written discovery," where each side asks the other basic questions such as identifying witnesses or medical treatment received by the plaintiff claimed as a result of the accident or seeks the production of specific documents such as accident reports and/or photos or video. While the Court will order the lawyers to complete written discovery within a certain time period, extensions are again given as a matter of course.
Sometimes answers to written discovery generate more questions or more requests for records. For instance, in a construction accident case, the plaintiff will always ask the defendant to identify prime and sub-contractors involved in the work site project. Once learned, the plaintiff will generally subpoena the records of all related contractors because these documents may reveal evidence vital to prove your case.
After written discovery comes "oral discovery." We'll cover what happens in this vital step of the personal injury case process in Why Your Personal Injury Case Takes So Long To Conclude; Pt. 2.