Attorney Help Center: Auto Accidents
More drivers have taken to the American road than ever before, creating crowded conditions on our streets and highways while increasing the number of accidents that occur every year. Many injured victims turn to personal injury attorneys who can provide legal assistance and transform their client's misfortune into a valid claim for compensation. This Attorney Help Center website is designed to help you, their lawyer, to take their case from inception to a jury award or negotiated settlement. Our law firm offers examples, tips, and other resources so you can help your clients achieve their goal of regaining their life and relieving their financial burden caused by their accident-related injuries.
Our practice is based in Illinois, and all laws regarding civil tort mentioned here are focused on our state. The information we provide can be found on our comprehensive Automobile Injury Help Center web pages. It is important to note that we do mention some laws and rules of other jurisdictions. Many states share similar laws; it is important to determine if the laws in your state differ from Illinois tort law before you base your case on them.
This Help Center is not designed for automobile accident victims but as a guide to personal injury attorneys wanting information on how to win their case. If you were injured in an automobile accident, please look for the valuable answers we have posted here. The info posted by our personal injury attorneys on this web page is categorized in different stages of a typical lawsuit and contain additional, helpful information that is relevant to your case.
Setting the Stage for Trial
Winning Your Case
Typically, the first time an attorney has contact with an injured victim is through an initial consultation to discuss the merits of their claim for compensation. Before you accept the case, you should consider all the factors that would validate the claim to ensure you can win the case for your client. Take the time during the consultation to ask pertinent questions and take detailed notes on the information your potential client provides in how they saw the accident happen.
It is important to ask the injured victim if they were transported to the hospital to receive emergency medical care immediately after the accident and if they know if a law enforcement officer arrived at the scene to handle the crash. Should you choose to accept the case, you will need to gather as much evidence, testimony, and eyewitness accounts as possible. This evidence could include:
- Obtaining a Police Report – Every vehicle accident involving an injury or fatalities will have an accompanying police report where a law enforcement officer will provide a detailed description of the contributing factors associated with the crash. The report will contain any traffic citations issued to any driver involved in the incident. It is important to look at this report because the insurance carrier will use the information to determine who is at fault for the collision.
Do not be dissuaded if the police report states that your client was at fault for the accident and given a traffic citation in violation of state traffic law. While it might be an uphill battle to prove your case in court, the police report may be missing pertinent information if your client never gave their side of the story while at the scene of the accident.
- Reviewing the Injured Victim's Medical Records – Hopefully, your client was transported to the local emergency room to obtain medical attention, so doctors could use the best equipment to diagnose any injury including organ damage, broken bones, hemorrhages, or skull fractures. If your client has not yet sought medical care, it is important to schedule an appointment with a doctor, so they can provide medical testimony at trial.
A doctor's testimony may be crucial to provide the key evidence you need to win your case. Their testimony might prove that your client has body function impairments, physical limitations, or a temporary/permanent disability that affects leading a normal life during recovery. Your client may no longer be able to participate in social activities, hobbies, or even their normal work duties until they have completely healed. The victim's doctor is the only one that can place a restriction to avoid certain activities until they have healed completely.
- Gathering any Photographic Evidence – You may need to investigate the crash to determine if anyone took photographs at the scene of the collision. These pictures that provide pertinent evidence for your case could have been taken by every party involved in the lawsuit, friends, family members, passengers, a passerby, witnesses, or the police.
- Hiring Professional Accident Reconstruction Experts – The insurance company or defendant may be making claims that your client is fully or partially at fault for causing the accident. To ensure the victim receives adequate compensation, you might need to hire professional accident reconstruction experts who can provide valuable information based on the evidence they obtain from the accident scene. These experts may be able to determine what happened based on skid marks, damage to the vehicles, and other evidence provided at the location of the crash.
- Hiring Expert Witnesses – Nearly all automobile accident lawsuits that go to trial are difficult to resolve without expert testimony provided on the witness stand. Likely, your client, the defendant, eyewitnesses, and legal and medical experts will be able to tell the complete story on the stand on how the accident occurred, the severity of your client's injuries and why the victim needs the amount of compensation they deserve to pay for past, current, and future damages.
- Reviewing All Pertinent Insurance Policies – The amount of insurance coverage the defendant has in their policy might not be sufficient to pay all of your client's damages. You may have to look for additional parties that might also be involved for causing the accident and look at your client's insurance policy to see if they carry uninsured or underinsured coverage that will pay the difference between the payout total of the defendant's policy and the limits on your client's policy.
- Begin the Discovery Process – At some point near the beginning of a lawsuit, you will need to begin sharing discovered evidence with the defendants or their attorney that will help identify the extent of damages and who is at fault for causing the accident. Without discovery, the process cannot move forward to arbitration, negotiation, or trial.
- Sending A Demand Letter to the Defendant – At some point, the defendants, their attorney, the insurance company or claims adjuster will want to schedule a negotiation settlement meeting to determine if the case can be resolved out of court. At this point, you need to have a comprehensive understanding of what your client will need to settle the case and avoid a jury trial. You likely sent a demand letter long before a settlement meeting was scheduled listing your client's damages, which you had already determined at that point.
However, now that the case has progressed, you likely have a clearer view of the extent of your client's injuries, losses, and damages. You likely need to revise your demand for compensation to include additional expenses that were previously hidden and non-economic damages including payment to your client for their emotional pain, anxiety, and mental trauma.
- Taking the Case to Trial – If the defendant or their insurance carrier is unwilling to offer an acceptable settlement amount, you typically have no other option than to take the case to trial. Recognize that trials involving personal injury cases can last days, weeks, months, or longer. When the trial begins, you will be required to provide physical evidence, eyewitness accounts, expert testimony, photographic evidence, and use depositions and interrogatories during your examination of witnesses in front of the jury.
It is important to recognize that while you may have a high level of skill in negotiating a settlement, you may not have much litigation experience. If that is so, consider taking on a competent legal partner who can present the evidence in court and increase your likelihood of winning the case for your client.
The list above contains just a few components of successfully resolving an automobile accident case through a negotiated settlement or presenting evidence in front of a judge and jury.
Telling Your Client What to Expect
It is important to discuss with your client what they can expect during the entire process of resolving their claim for compensation. No matter how much experience you have, you have no way to accurately predict with any level of certainty how their case will be resolved. You have no way of knowing what the jury will decide at the end of the trial or if the defendants will agree to settle the case for the amount that your client deserves.
You may want to consider conducting a focus group or putting on a mock trial to see how a jury of your client's peers will look at the strength and weakness of your case. The information you receive from the focus group might help you better address how you will present the case to the jury in court during the trial.
You should maintain an open dialogue with your client from the moment you accept the case until the lawsuit has been resolved. Provide your client with a thorough explanation of the process at the start of your professional relationship and describe the benefits they are likely to receive, and the risks involved in presenting the evidence at trial versus negotiating a settlement out of court.
Don't See the Information You Need?
If you are searching for other information related to the prosecution of other types of cases, please reference the sections on our site below: