Your Chicago Personal Injury Case: The Basics
There is a good chance that at some point in your life you or someone you love will suffer an injury. The world is a dangerous place, and Chicago is no different. Perhaps you were in a car accident at the Stony Island / 79th Street intersection, or maybe you slipped on a wet floor inside Mariano's Fresh Market. Through no fault of your own you are burdened with medical bills, left unable to work, and plagued by a splitting headache that just won't go away.
Fortunately, you may have grounds for filing a personal injury lawsuit. Personal injury lawsuits exist to compensate people who are hurt by others, whether intentionally or accidentally. You can start by following a few simple steps to preserve evidence of the injury. However, the legal process can be daunting, and the dense Illinois legal system does little to ease the burden. To help you navigate these murky waters, we've provided information on what to expect from your Chicago personal injury case.
Filing a Lawsuit
You have two years from the date of the accident to file your personal injury lawsuit. If your lawsuit is based on medical malpractice, you have two years from the date that you discovered the injury. The Illinois statute of limitations protects people from being sued for very old injuries, after evidence has disappeared and memories have faded. If you do not file your lawsuit within two years of the injury, you will be forever unable to recover, regardless of the strength of your case.
The Civil Division of the Cook County Circuit Court handles personal injury cases worth $30,000 of less, while the Law Division handles cases worth more than $30,000. You can file your lawsuit in any of the Circuit Court's branches, or read more about Chicago Courthouses to determine which location is appropriate.
To file a lawsuit you must draft a complaint, which is an explanation of the basis of your lawsuit. A complaint should be brief and plainly worded, but specific enough to show you would win the case.
Types of Injury Lawsuits
Most personal injury lawsuits will be based on a negligence claim, requiring you to prove that the other party failed to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances, and that this failure caused your injury. Historically, if you were partly to blame for the accident you would be barred from receiving any compensation under the contributory negligence doctrine. However, Illinois has softened this harsh rule by adopting a modified comparative negligence rule for assigning fault in negligence cases.
Under Illinois law, fault is divided among each party and damages are reduced in proportion to your relative fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an injury that was found to be 10% your fault, you would be able to recover 90%, or $900, from the other party. However, if you are found to be more than 50% to blame for your own injury you cannot recover anything at all.
In cases involving death, the surviving family members may be able to recover damages in a wrongful death suit. A successful wrongful death suit will allow the surviving relatives to receive compensation for any medical bills, funeral expenses, loss of the deceased's financial support, and loss of companionship.
A medical malpractice lawsuit addresses injuries caused by improper treatment by healthcare professionals. For example, a doctor could misdiagnose an injury, fail to provide appropriate treatment, or unreasonably delay treatment. As trained professionals, doctors are held to a higher standard of care than an ordinary person. However, pain and suffering damages are capped at $500,000 in lawsuits against doctors, and capped at $1 million for lawsuits against hospitals.
Workplace injuries such as slips and falls, back or neck injuries, or carpal tunnel are far too common. Generally, every employee who is hired or injured in Illinois is covered by the worker's compensation laws of the state. Worker's compensation is like insurance, where a worker injured on the job receives benefits paid by his or her employer. Like insurance, you will typically receive compensation without having to file a lawsuit.
Illinois also has a "no-fault" system where the employee automatically receives compensation, no matter the circumstances of the injury. You must report your injury within 45 days of the incident or you could forfeit the benefits. For more information about worker's compensation law, try reading the Handbook or visiting the Illinois Worker's Compensation Commission website.
Types of Damages
Damages are traditionally divided into economic damages and noneconomic damages. The most common types of noneconomic damages in personal injury cases are "pain and suffering" and punitive damages. Pain and suffering damages compensate you for the mental and physical distress you suffer as a result of the injury.
Economic damages are designed to compensate you for monetary losses, such as:
- past and future medical expenses;
- loss of past and future income;
- loss of use of property;
- costs of repair or replacement; and
- loss of employment opportunities.
In personal injury cases the most obvious economic damages will be medical bills. However, you should print out our damages worksheet to make sure nothing is overlooked. Alternatively, you may want to speak with an experience personal injury attorney who can draft the papers to initiate a lawsuit, gather the proper evidence, and negotiate a settlement with the opposing party on your behalf.
If the defendant's actions were excessively dangerous or if the defendant intended to injure you, you may be eligible to receive punitive damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish defendants for reprehensible behavior and deter others from engaging in similar bad acts. There is no upper limit on punitive damages in Illinois.