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What Is the Personal Injury Claim Process?

Your right to seek compensation for losses sustained in an accident is exercised through the Illinois personal injury claim process. If you sustained an injury in an accident caused by negligence, you can pursue compensation against the at-fault party. The compensation can take the form of economic or non-economic damages, which usually cover medical bills, lost earning capacity or income, and pain and suffering.

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You will bring your personal injury claim against the party responsible for your injuries or losses. The injury claim may end in a settlement, or it may progress into a lawsuit. Whichever direction it takes, presenting well-supported evidence can help strengthen your claim.

When to File a Personal Injury Claim

The statute of limitations imposes a time limit on when victims can initiate the personal injury claim process. Filing the claim after this deadline has passed may result in the dismissal of your case. In Illinois, the statute of limitations for personal injury claims is generally two years. Though there are some legal exemptions to the time limit, it’s best to file your case as soon as possible. The statute of limitations is runs out two years from when the occurrence, omission, or act that caused the injury happened.  If you file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations expires, the court will bar it.

Exceptions to the Statute of Limitations

Illinois courts developed legal doctrines that help extend the statute of limitations under special circumstances. One of the exceptions is the discovery rule, where the “timer” for the statute of limitations starts to count when an injured party knew or should have known, through the reasonable diligence exercise, about the injury. Additionally, the time limit for a claim involving a child will take effect only when the child turns 18.

Steps in a Personal Injury Claim

As an injured victim or a family member of an injured victim, you may need more information about the personal injury claim process, such as how a claim proceeds.

Here are the steps in a personal injury claim:

The Accident Occurs

A personal injury claim can stem from a wide range of accidents. But one thing these accidents share in common is an at-fault party that causes harm to the victim out of negligence.

Whether from an auto accident or a slip-and-fall accident, you must take the right steps to protect your claim if you get injured due to another person’s negligence. Taking the right steps from the start can help you mitigate the delay tactics that insurance adjusters use when trying to deny you compensation. Start building your claim at the accident scene, by doing the following:

  • Take pictures of the position of the vehicles, car damage, skid marks, or anything that can help investigate how the accident occurred or who was at fault.
  • Get a copy of the police report.
  • Get the names and contact details of any witnesses at the accident scene.
  • Seek medical attention for any discomfort or pain

Seeking Medical Treatment

Go to the nearest hospital to get examined for injuries if you got hurt after an accident. The hospital visit will ensure you get treatment for any health concerns and help establish the basis for your personal injury claim. The documentation you receive from seeking medical treatment is crucial in proving your injuries. These documents are admissible as evidence during negotiations with the insurance company or at trial.

If you fail to see a healthcare provider immediately but file an insurance claim with the other party’s insurer, the adjuster may downplay your injuries. He or she may suggest that injuries were not serious enough to be considered for treatment and compensation.

Consulting a Personal Injury Lawyer

Consult with a personal injury lawyer if you are in a situation where someone else is legally responsible for your injuries. A lawyer’s help will be necessary if you suffered a serious injury, such as a diagnosed concussion or a broken bone. You may also need legal help to calculate the true value of the financial losses (medical expenses and lost wages) incurred after the accident.

If the liable party is downplaying your claim or questioning the legitimacy and nature of your injuries, you shouldn’t argue with him or her. Instead, let your lawyer handle the issues on your behalf.

The Lawyer Investigates and Prepares the Case

Once you hire a lawyer, expect him or her to interview you about your situation. Share everything you recall about the accident, injuries, and treatment. If you leave anything out, the insurance adjuster may use it against you in the settlement negotiations.

The lawyer will need you to share your medical bills and records related to the injury. These documents can help prove that you sought treatment after the accident. Your attorney may also hire an investigator to help locate and interview witnesses. You should expect him or her to track down security video or surveillance of the accident scene if it exists and consult with an accident reconstructionist.

The lawyer Makes Demands and Starts Negotiations 

If your personal injury attorney is confident that your claim can be settled, expect the attorney to submit a demand to the other party’s insurance company or attorney. The demand can only be made once the injury victim reaches a point of maximum medical improvement (which involves ending initial medical treatment and recovering). The reason is that it is hard to determine the actual value of your claim until you recover fully or reach a point where your condition cannot improve.

The other party’s insurer or attorney may respond with a counteroffer once your lawyer makes the demand. Then, back-and-forth negotiations will occur, which point out the strengths and weaknesses in either case.

But how long does a personal injury claim take to go to court? Well, it depends on the circumstances of the case. If the two sides fail to settle, the case will proceed to the litigation stage, in which a personal injury lawsuit is filed.

Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit

The litigation stage begins when your lawyer files a personal injury lawsuit on your behalf. In Illinois, this process should adhere to the statute of limitations. Filing a lawsuit automatically opens up the prospect of a court trial. As such, it will compel the other party’s attorney or insurance company to approach you with a reasonable settlement offer.

If a settlement isn’t reached, you may continue with the lawsuit to seek compensation. The time taken between the pretrial and trial will depend on the lawsuit’s circumstances.

Discovery

In court cases, the discovery phase allows both parties to investigate each other’s allegations and defenses. The discovery phase can help both sides understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses in a personal injury claim. As it happens, the parties will send document requests and interrogatories to each other.

Discovery also involves taking depositions of witnesses and other parties, starting with the injury victim and the defendant. Depending on the case facts and local court deadlines, this step may last several months to a year.

Mediation and Negotiation

The lawyers involved in the case may consider a settlement toward the end of the discovery stage. If they can settle the case among themselves, further mediation is unnecessary. As an alternative dispute resolution process, mediation allows both parties to seek help from a neutral third party to solve the case. Though it can last a day or two, it does not guarantee that the two sides will agree.

Trial

If mediation and negotiation fails, your case will move to trial. Both sides will submit and cross-examine evidence related to the case during the trial. The evidence may include witness testimonies, surveillance footage, accident photos, and other documents.

The judge or jury will allow both attorneys to make opening and closing statements. Once sufficient arguments and evidence have been presented, the jury will privately convene to decide on a verdict.

In their judgment, jury members will determine the level of negligence on either side. Once a verdict has been given, the judge will read it to the court. The judge will then give a breakdown of the damages the defendant should pay if the jury members ruled in favor of the injury victim.

Types of Damages in a Personal Injury Claim

Damages in a personal injury claim are classified as economic, non-economic, and punitive. The word damages, in this context, refers to the amount of money injured victims can recover if it is legally proven that someone else’s negligent actions led to the injury.

Medical costs, lost earnings, and property damage form economic damages and are easy to calculate. Non-economic damages, like mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering, are not as easy to quantify. Punitive damages are a form of punishment for the defendant if his or her actions were deliberate or grossly negligent.

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Keith & Robert Shindler

Keith & Robert Shindler are partners at the personal injury law firm of Shindler & Shindler, Attorneys at Law. The brothers focus their practice on protecting the rights of injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. They take pride in handling every case personally, and delivering top-notch legal services to the people of Illinois.

Years of Experience: More than 65 years of combined experience
Bar & Court Admissions: Active

Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois Wisconsin United State District Court, Northern District Illinois United State District Court, Central District Illinois