Business and Administrative Steps to take Before Trial
Before beginning any legal work, you will want to take several steps to ensure your ability to actually help your client and make any money helping your client are not compromised. Here is a list of a few key items and resources you will want to accomplish and take advantage of at the beginning of every automobile accident lawsuit.
- Automobile Accident Case Checklist
Click on the above link for a sample Automobile Accident Case checklist. This document should serve as your roadmap throughout the entire case. Also, it should point out to you the strengths and weaknesses of your case because you will notice certain areas might be lacking in documentation. You can customize each section to fit the particular needs of your client. Finally, next to each relevant item, you should note how it impacts your argument and what –if anything-it relies upon.
- Client Intake Form
Click on the above link for a sample Client Intake Form. Naturally, client intakes are crucial to gather such factors as liability, the scope of damage, and any relevant third parties. However, they also are an important opportunity to bond with the prospective client, to establish your credibility and ability to help him or her. Lawyers should ask about the circumstances of the automobile accident, any injuries resulting, any witnesses in the vicinity, and if any insurance companies or other law firms have been contacted already. After the intake, the lawyer may want to recommend certain actions to the prospective client to further build the attorney-client bond as well as to protect future recovery. They include some of the following:
- Visit a doctor: This is important to assuage the client’s pain as well as to document any injuries resulting from the accident.
- Gather evidence: Instruct the client to obtain any pictures or evidence of the accident, any contact information of witnesses, police reports of the accident, and insurance information of the other parties.
- Remain silent: Inform your client that it is imperative that he or she not discuss the case with anyone else. This can harm his or her chances of recovery and, therefore, all communications must be made through you.
- Contingency Fee Agreement
- HIPAA Form
- Lost Wages Form
Click the above link for a sample Lost Wages Form. Ascertaining the extent and kind of economic lost attributable to an automobile accident is very important because they can be combined into the total amount of damages that you ask for in your claim. Obviously, this includes the loss suffered from your inability to work because of injuries arising out of the accident. However, it also includes the loss of income in the future because of the circumstances of the incident. Therefore, the law provides broad relief in the present and future for auto accident victims and it is important to carefully calculate the exact cost of damages. These damages can include some of the following:
- Your hospital visits, doctor visits, medications, and any therapy sessions related to the accident.
- Loss of income for any time you could not work because of the accident or if you were fired because of the accident.
- Loss of pay for any time you spent in convalescence due to the accident.
- Letter of Representation
- Police Report Request
To request a police report involving an automobile accident in Chicago, login to their CLEARpath system on the Chicago Police Department’s website, fill out the appropriate information, and pay $6.00. You can also mail a request or make a request in person at their offices located at 3510 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, 60653. To mail a request, send a detailed description of the accident, parties involved, and injuries to the following address:
- Chicago Police Department - Records Inquiry Section (Unit 163),
- 3510 S. Michigan Avenue,
- Chicago, Illinois, 60653
- MVA Driving Records Request
Click on the above link for a sample MVA Driving Records Request Form. The Illinois Secretary of State allows you to request the records of any driver, assuming you have their name and either their driver’s license number or date of birth. However, these requests are not anonymous. You must submit your identity and if you are requesting the information on behalf of someone else. The cost to request these forms is $12. Also, you can request these records at a Secretary of State facility, on their website, or via mail to the following address (include the individual’s name, date of birth, sex, and Illinois driver's license number along with the fee):
- Secretary of State, Driver Analysis Section,
- 2701 S. Dirksen Pkwy.,
- Springfield, IL 62723.
- Request for Disclosure to Third Parties
Click on the above link for a sample Contingency Fee Agreement. Common among plaintiffs’ lawyers, these provide compensation to the lawyer of a plaintiff if and only if there is victory and compensation. Certain rules proscribe their use, including the following: they must be signed by the client, clearly identify the scope of work, must be reasonable in amount (with reasonableness ascertained by such factors as time required, expertise required, resources required, customary fees, reputation of the lawyer, etc. See Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct §1.5), any change in the nature of work performed or fees charged must be put in writing, they are prohibited for domestic and criminal matters, fees cannot be split with nonlawyers, and fees split with different law firms must be put in writing with the informed consent of the client. For more information on the nature and elements required in contingency fees, see Illinois Supreme Court case Dowling v. Chicago Options Assoc., Inc., 875 N.E.2d 1012 (Ill. 2007).
Click on the above link for a sample HIPAA Form. In response to growing concern regarding the privacy of patients’ medical record, Congress passed reform in the late 1990s. These now require healthcare providers to obtain the signature of patients before releasing their medical records to anyone besides them. Obviously, lawyers in automobile accident cases will want immediate and intimate access to these records to discover the nature and extent of client injuries. Therefore, to obtain these files, lawyers should use have the client sign the above HIPAA Form then, in every request for medical records, lawyers will need to attach a copy of that executed HIPAA Form in addition to the request for records.
Click on the above link for a sample Letter of Representation. In this particular form, the intended audience is the insurance company of the at-fault driver. It is important to put the insurance company on notice that you are the injured party’s representative and that they should only speak to you about the accident, instead of your client. You should also reference the circumstances of the automobile accident as well as any known injuries but also advise that you will forward all bills and future developments related to the accident.
Click on the above link for a sample Request for Disclosure to Third Parties (for Allstate Insurance). Often in accident litigation, the attorneys for both sides will want access to the medical history of the injured party. This form allows the defendant access to the prior medical history of the plaintiff as well as any doctor visits and notes related to the incident that were gathered in relation to past claims. For a number of reasons, it is not always advisable for a plaintiff to sign this, at least before seeking the advice of counsel. First of all, the defendant could try and say, after reviewing the plaintiff’s prior medical history, that any injuries were the result of a prior incident. Second, the defendant could claim, after reviewing the doctors’ notes, that the injuries did not arise until after the accident and were not related to it. Finally, the defendant could try to argue that the injuries were exacerbated by the plaintiff’s peculiar condition. For all these reasons and more, plaintiff’s counsel should carefully review these forms before having their client sign them.
Click on the above link for sample Demand Letters. Demand letters are often used at the beginning of a case to short-circuit the lengthy and expensive litigation process. They typically set out the negligent action caused by the would-be defendant, the damages caused, and the basis for a potential lawsuit. Normally, demand letters are sent to the legal representative of the party at fault or his or her insurance company.
KNOW YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY
Before any lawsuit or settlement, it is important to understand the insurance company implicated in the incident. This company will often be the one that you seek reimbursement from after seeking a judgment from the party at fault because that party was insured or has no money to offer. Click on the links below to learn about some of the biggest insurance companies and litigation against them:
- State Farm
- Countrywide Financial
- Liberty Mutual
HOW TO FILE A LAWSUIT
In Cook County, you have to fill out and file a Complaint and Summons form. These documents can be downloaded at their website (http://www.cookcountyclerkofcourt.org/) or picked up at their office at Room 601 in the Richard J. Daley Center, 50 West Washington Street, Chicago, Illinois, 60602. You must also serve the defendant either through the Sheriff’s Office or through certified mail (if the claim is below $10,000). After filing these documents, the county will give you a return date for when you are supposed to come back for your trial. For more information and for all relevant forms needed to file a lawsuit, please visit the Cook County website. Also, to see the costs of a filing you lawsuit, visit this page: http://220.127.116.11/Forms/pdf_files/CCG0603.pdf
The process to start a lawsuit is quite similar in other counties, to find the necessary information see below:
- Office of the Circuit Court Clerk
- 505 County Farm Road
- P.O. Box 707
- Wheaton, Illinois 60187-0707
- Keith Brin, Clerk of the Circuit Court
- 18 N. County St.
- Waukegan, IL 60085
- Will County Court House
- The Office of the Circuit Clerk
- 14 W. Jefferson Street
- Joliet, IL 60432
- (815) 727-8592
- Clerk of the Circuit Court
- 540 S. Randall Rd.
- St. Charles, IL 60174
- McHenry County Government Center
- 2200 North Seminary Ave.
- Woodstock IL 60098
- (815) 334-4000
- Clerk of the Court
- 157 North Main Street,
- Edwardsville, IL. 62025