The first step Arlo will take when representing a client that has been involved in a car accident is to thoroughly investigate the facts of the accident and the nature and extent of the client’s injuries. The next step is to send a demand letter to the at-fault driver’s insurance company demanding that they pay the client full and fair compensation to settle the claim. If the insurance company refuses to settle as demanded, then Arlo will file a lawsuit against the defendant and begin preparing for trial.
1. The Investigation
A good attorney is a skilled investigator. To investigate the facts of an accident, Arlo will interview the client and any witnesses such as passengers in the client’s vehicle or bystanders. Arlo will also obtain a copy of the Illinois Traffic Crash Report, if one exists, to see what the investigating police officer determined about the crash and how it occurred. In some cases, it may also be necessary to visit the scene of the accident to take photographs. Arlo will also work to obtain video surveillance video of the crash if needed, such as footage from traffic cameras or nearby stores. Finally, in complex accidents involving serious injuries, Arlo may also hire an accident reconstructionist or other expert to inspect the vehicles involved in the collision and offer opinions about the crash.
Understanding the full nature and extent of a client’s injuries is critical to getting the client the best possible recovery. Further, it is important for those injured to understand the full nature and extent of their injuries so that they can consult with their doctors about what treatment will be needed to fully recover from their injuries. Many common injuries experienced in car accidents like muscle strains and sprains can be healed with physical therapy, but remedying more complicated injuries like fractures, tears of ligaments, and disc bulges, protrusions, or herniations may require more advanced treatment like surgery. Before attempting to resolve a case, Arlo will always make sure both he and his client understand the full nature and extent of the injuries the client experienced in an accident. This ensures that the client is fully compensated for his medical expenses, pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of normal life, and lost wages.
2. The Demand Letter
Once Arlo has thoroughly investigated the facts of the case and the client’s injuries, he will send a demand letter to the at-fault driver’s insurance company. The demand letter illustrates why the at-fault driver is responsible for the collision and discusses the injuries suffered by the client. Finally, the letter will demand a specific sum to settle the case.
Some insurance companies will engage in settlement negotiations in good faith and offer full and fair compensation to those injured by their insureds. However, many substandard insurance companies will refuse to negotiate or only give low-ball offers. If this occurs, then Arlo can file a lawsuit on behalf of his client against the at-fault driver and begin preparing for trial. If the defendant’s insurance company refuses to offer adequate compensation, then the only recourse is to try a case to verdict and persuade the jury to award full and fair damages.
3. The Litigation Process
The first step in the litigation process is for the plaintiff to file a complaint. The complaint will include specific allegations about the facts of the collision at issue and the defendant’s negligence. The plaintiff then must serve the complaint and summons on the defendant. Once the defendant has been served, his insurance company will hire a lawyer to represent him. The defendant’s attorney will then file an appearance in the case and an answer to the complaint.
Once an answer has been filed, the next step is for the parties to engage in discovery. The first phase of discovery is called written discovery, where the parties exchange and answer interrogatories and requests to produce documents. Interrogatories issued to the plaintiff will ask for information such as a description of the plaintiff’s injuries, the identity of any witnesses, and the total amount of the plaintiff’s medical bills. Interrogatories issued to the defendant will ask for information such as the identity of any defense witnesses, whether the defendant was charged with a traffic violation as a result of the collision, and the total amount of available insurance coverage. Requests to produce documents issued by the parties will ask for information such as photographs of the vehicles involved in the collision, medical records and bills, and any photographs of the plaintiff’s injuries.
When the written discovery has been answered, the parties will then engage in oral discovery, also known as depositions. At a deposition, the parties’ lawyers will take turns asking a party or witness questions about what they know about the case, such as the facts of the accident or the plaintiff’s injuries. A deposition is similar to testifying in court, because a court reporter is present and the deponent must take an oath to tell the truth, but depositions take place in an attorney’s office rather than a courtroom. The parties may also choose to depose the plaintiff’s treating physicians and any expert witnesses if either party hires an expert.
When discovery has been completed, the case will be certified as “ready for trial.” The case will then be assigned a trial judge who will preside over the trial. Typically, cases involving simple collisions and injuries will take one to two days to try, while more complicated trials with more than one defendant or catastrophic injuries may take two to three weeks to complete.