Last week, we covered the first stages of the personal injury case process: filing a suit, "homework assignments," and written discovery. The next category of work following written discovery is oral discovery, i.e. depositions. A deposition is a question and answer proceeding of parties, witnesses, and anyone who either party believes has evidence relevant to the case. Doctors who have treated the injured plaintiff are generally deposed after all event witnesses have taken place.
Once this is done, the parties have an opportunity to name an expert witness(es), whose opinions must be disclosed to the party opponent within a specified time period. Once the expert witness(es) are named, they are deposed according to a time frame ordered by the Court. Scheduling can be challenging, especially with doctors who may set aside only certain times/days of the week for their deposition, and who may be scheduled weeks in advance. A call in June for available doctor deposition dates may yield one in August—their earliest availability. Cases where there are multiple personal injury attorneys pose similar problems of scheduling and similar delays.
Most cases settle. If this is true, why doesn't personal injury settlement occur earlier in the process, saving all parties time and money? Good question. A settlement can occur at any time, even before suit is filed. A personal injury case always has two elements—liability and damages. Those cases with clear-cut liability and damages have a chance to settle early in the process, e.g. a rear-end car crash where the defendant driver is DUI and the plaintiff sustained injuries requiring surgery.
Most accidents are not nearly so clear-cut. There may be doubt over how the accident happened or the resulting damages. In these, the overwhelming majority of cases, the defendant's insurance company will leave no stone unturned to try and limit the value of your case. This means the complete discovery process must be engaged, as each event or medical witness may testify in a way that is helpful or harmful to your case.
In Cook County, Illinois, all of the above work must be done before you can obtain a trial date (collar counties may differ. In Lake County, for instance, you receive a trial date the first time you appear at court). While Courts have undergone some internal structural changes in recent years, greatly reducing the time from filing of a suit to trial, you can pretty much count on your personal injury case taking at least two or more years to wind its way through the court system. Confronting the prospect of trial, after all of the evidence has been gathered, the moment may have finally arrived when settlement is achieved. This is when all claims and defenses will be known, and the parties can determine the prospect of success or failure in proceeding to trial.
If you have additional questions about the litigation process, contact our Chicago law firm to speak with one of our experienced personal injury lawyers.