Overview of a Personal Injury Case

Personal injury cases for money damages are called civil cases. In Illinois, there are special rules, codes and statutes that govern civil cases. The person bringing a claim is called a plaintiff. The person or entity accused of wrongful conduct is called a defendant.There are a variety of personal injury cases, much too exhaustive to list here. However, the following is a list of the more common types of personal injury cases, which will be discussed briefly in this guide:

Work Injuries - Workers' Compensation Act Motor Vehicle/Transportation Accidents Construction Accidents/Negligence Medical Malpractice Dog Bite Dram Shop/Intoxication General Negligence Premises Liability Products Liability Railroad/FELA Farm and Agricultural Accidents Boating Accidents

In some cases, more than one of these categories may be claimed against a defendant or defendants for the same injuries. The claims depend on the facts involved in your case.

For example, if you are injured at work, you are usually entitled to benefits under the Illinois Workers' Compensation Act from your employer. However, you may also have claims against other people or entities that contributed in some fashion to causing your injuries.

Who May be Entitled to Compensation? Every injured person does not have a right to compensation from someone else. A plaintiff (injured person) has the responsibility (burden) of proving the defendant(s) did something wrong and that the injuries suffered were caused, in part, as a result of what the defendant(s) did or did not do. If the plaintiff is able to prove these elements, he or she will usually be entitled to compensation.

In addition to the physically injured victim, others may have a derivative or a direct right to compensation as well. For example, in cases of a lawfully wedded couple, the law would allow, under most circumstances, for the spouse of the injured victim to receive certain compensation. As another example, in Illinois, the Wrongful Death Act provides compensation for the spouse and next-of-kin of the decedent for their losses such as loss of support, love, affection, and guidance; the Illinois Survival Act provides the Estate to sue for the pre-death injuries suffered by the decedent.

What Are the Types of Damages That May be Claimed? The types of damages available are provided in specific categories depending on the type of case and a careful analysis of the facts. How much a case is worth is ultimately set by the jury verdict. Whether the offer made before trial is appropriate is usually determined by what the parties believe a jury is likely to do based on the facts and the law of a given case. Depending on the victim's injuries, the legal principles that govern the case, and the jurisdiction where the case is likely to go to trial, all help determine how much an at-fault party should pay to an injured party.

For example, in a typical motor vehicle case, damages may fall into some or all of the following general categories:

  • Medical Expenses - past and those provable in the future
  • Lost earnings - past and those provable in the future
  • Pain, suffering, mental anguish - past and those provable in the future
  • Disability or loss of a normal life
  • Disfigurement
  • Property Damage

These damages are very different from workers' compensation damages, which are explained later, are limited to: - Medical expenses; - Temporary total disability; and - Permanency.

The laws governing liability and compensation in civil cases are constantly evolving. Our state and federal government is relentlessly bombarded by attempts from insurance companies, big business, and self-interest groups to restrict and limit a victims' rights and entitlement to compensation. These efforts have been successful in some areas. They have led to very restrictive caps on the amount of damages that a victim may be entitled to collect under some actions, even though the injuries are catastrophic and permanent.

In addition to caps on damages, there are some types of cases with statutes that significantly restrict the manner and the procedures for making a claim. For example, in order to file a medical malpractice claim, the claimant must attach to the lawsuit, a report by a medical professional certifying that the claim is reasonable and meritorious. As you may imagine, even in the most egregious cases, there is a reluctance among doctors to complete these reports against other doctors within their medical community. As a result, it is very difficult to obtain these reports in order to file a malpractice suit.