Personal injury lawyers (especially the sharks) think of ourselves as warriors, fighting on our clients behalves against defendants and insurance companies. The legal system is so complex, so full of tricks and traps, that a person off the street has virtually no chance of success. Even the simplest parts of the system, like starting a new lawsuit, are so complicated that they take years to master.
A good personal injury lawyer will start by learning as much about your case as possible. Then, he or she will walk you through the litigation process and ask you about your expectations. Finally, he or she will work to collect all the facts, documents, statement, and other material related to your case.
During the entire process, a good lawyer will answer all your questions, keep you up to date with your case, and discuss all your options. A good lawyer will do one other thing: RETURN ALL YOUR PHONE CALLS in a timely manner.
Have you handled a case like this before?
Many lawyers handle a number of different types of cases. Others focus on a specific type of case. You want a lawyer who has handled your type of case before. If you've been hurt, you want a lawyer that focuses on personal injury cases. The Memmen Law Firm focuses its practice almost entirely on personal injury cases. When you consult with a lawyer, ask them about their experience with cases like yours. Ask them questions about what to expect and how to proceed. A good lawyer will give you specific answers and will suggest strategies to get you the best possible result.
How long will this take?
If you were recently in an accident, you should think about your case in terms of months and years, not days and weeks. The lawyers at the Memmen Law Firm frequently tell our clients that our work starts when the doctor's work ends. Especially in small cases, it is imperative to know how much your medical bills are before a claim or lawsuit is filed.
How much will this cost?
Like most personal injury lawyers, the sharks don't ask to be paid up front. Instead, we take a contingency fee. That means we only get paid when you get paid.
But a lawsuit isn't completely free. A lawsuit takes a lot of time - and time is money. Most of that time will be spent by me and my staff getting your case ready for suit and ready for trial. We will spend countless hours at the office and in court: getting the summons and complaint ready, preparing for depositions and responding to discovery. Most of this work goes on without the client ever seeing it.
The client will also spend lots of time responding to questions and possibly attending a deposition. If the case goes to trial, the client will have to prepare for and attend the trial. In short, you don't want to file a lawsuit unless you're willing to spend the time necessary to do it right. The sharks only take cases we think are a good investment of your time and our money.
What is a party?
Unlike a real party, with balloons and cake, a party to a lawsuit refers to the "plaintiff" or the "defendant." The plaintiff is the party that claims to be injured and is seeking damages. The defendant is the party that is alleged to have caused the plaintiff's injury either through negligence, breach of contract, or some other bad act.
What can I expect the process to be like?
The process of making a claim for an injury and possibly filing a lawsuit is very long. The good news is we will do most of the work. The bad news is the defense lawyers will use every trick in the book to slow the process down as much as possible.
You can expect the process to take a long time with brief periods of activity, surrounded by long periods of inactivity. Feel free to call your lawyer to get an update.
How does a lawsuit start?
A lawsuit starts when a plaintiff files a summons and complaint with the clerk of court, usually in the county where the accident happened or where the plaintiff lives. In most cases, the summons and complaint are prepared and filed by an lawyer who represents the plaintiff. There is usually also a filing fee. For instance, in Cook County, the filing fee to start a new lawsuit is currently $337.00.
After the summons and complaint are filed, they are given the sheriff, who will attempt to "serve" the defendant with the lawsuit. Once the defendant is served, they get a chance to answer the complaint - basically to give their side of the story.
What is a summons and complaint?
The summons and complaint are the two documents that start most lawsuits. Once a summons and complaint are filed with the clerk of court, both documents must be "served" on all the defendants in the case. Service just means that the sheriff physically gives the documents to the defendant in person. Sometimes, service is easy and the sheriff can quickly get it done. Other times, service takes months of work. Either way, once the defendant has been served with the summons and complaint, he or she gets to answer and the lawsuit gets rolling.
What is discovery?
Discovery is the legal term for an investigation into the facts of the case. Lawyers use various legal tools to help them learn about the facts of the case. For instance, in a car accident case, I will send "interrogatories" to the driver of the other vehicle to learn as much as possible. I may also send document requests, and I may demand the deposition of the other driver. I might also subpoena the deposition of other witnesses.
Discovery is frequently the longest portion of the lawsuit. Usually, discovery takes between one and two years. Sometimes, it can take even longer.
What is a deposition?
A deposition is a chance for lawyers from both sides to ask questions - in person and under oath. A deposition is part of the discovery process. It is one of the legal tools that lawyers use to help them learn about the case. Parties to the lawsuit can be deposed, and so can witnesses. A deposition is less formal than a trial, but a court reporter is present and the witness is under oath. Any answers the witness gives are transcribed and kept as part of the record of the case.
How does a lawsuit end?
A lawsuit can end in one of three major ways: trial and verdict, settlement, or summary dismissal. A trial is somewhat like what you see on TV. You and your lawyer go to court and give your story to the judge and jury. At the end of the trial, the jury gives a verdict - either for the plaintiff or the defendant.
A settlement is an agreement between the plaintiff and the defendant to dismiss the suit in exchange for a specified amount of money. Often, a settlement is the best way to end a lawsuit. It takes the risk out of going to trial, and it is often much faster than waiting to get in front of a jury. It's the old adage about a bird in hand being worth two in the bush.
Summary dismissal can happen in a number of ways, but it means that your case has been dismissed by the judge, usually after the defendant files a motion. Even if your case gets dismissed, the sharks often know ways to get it back in court.