If you suffer an accident or personal injury, you may feel traumatized, stressed, and unsure of your options or rights to recovery. Often, time is of the essence and it is important to consult with an experienced Illinois personal injury attorney who will be familiar with Illinois judicial procedures and alternative dispute resolution options. This guide will briefly outline different paths to recovery including settlement, trial, arbitration, and mediation with references to relevant sections of the Illinois Compiled Statutes (ILCS).
Litigation – Settlement or Trial
The term litigation may sound intimidating, and it can be a difficult process, but when you are injured you may find the only way to get full recovery is to pursue your day in court. An experienced personal injury attorney can guide you through this process from filing a complaint to reaching a settlement or going to trial. Consultation with a personal injury attorney will help you determine your specific claim or cause of action (such as negligence), who can be held liable (an individual or a company), where you need to bring your suit (jurisdiction and venue), the applicable statute of limitations (the deadline for you to begin a suit), and whether you can recover compensatory and/or punitive damages.
It is crucial to the success of your case that you be as open and honest with your attorney as possible and that you provide as much information as your can so that your attorney can draft the strongest possible complaint. Medical consultation and reports, witnesses and experts, and photographs or recordings are all potential sources of support for personal injury claims and can be obtained through the discovery process when information is exchanged between the parties (735 ILCS 5/2-1003). The collection and presentation of evidence will determine whether or not a claim is successful. Initially, each of these steps will happen outside the court room, but eventually the case may progress to trial and the attorneys will present their cases for verdict and judgment.
A personal injury attorney can also discuss with you the possibility of settlement, that is, reaching an agreement without waiting for the court to render judgment. A settlement agreement usually involves resolution of the parties’ claims, including the amount of damages to be paid, and a release from further claims regarding the incident or occurrence which formed the basis of the suit to ensure that the settlement will be the final result. The settlement is then entered with the court and legally binding on both parties.
Alternative Dispute Resolution – Arbitration or Mediation
In recognition of the often high cost of litigation, Illinois has adopted both the Uniform Arbitration Act (710 ILCS 5) and the Uniform Mediation Act (710 ILCS 35) as alternative means of resolving disputes. An experienced Illinois attorney can review the facts of a particular dispute to determine if one of these methods may be as or more appropriate than litigation.
Arbitration is an alternative to ligation that is often faster and more cost effective. In arbitration, the parties’ dispute is submitted to one or more impartial third parties, an arbitrator or panel of arbitrators, for a written decision, called an “award,” which will be final and binding on the parties and enforceable by the courts. In accordance with the Uniform Arbitration Act (710 ILCS 5) arbitration has a formal, but expedited procedure, similar to litigation in that it begins with a preliminary hearing, a period of information exchange, and involves presentations of witnesses, experts, and evidence at one or more scheduled hearings. As in litigation, arbitration may involve the use of subpoenas and depositions as means of gathering evidence and testimony. At the conclusion of the arbitration process, the arbitrator will issue a written award. An experienced Illinois attorney will be able to navigate this process smoothly to ensure that the appropriate steps are taken to confirm or challenge the award in court.
In some cases, the Illinois Supreme Court may compel the parties to resolve their dispute through arbitration rather than litigation in order to expedite the process of claims for less than $50,000:
Sec. 2-1001A. Authorization. The Supreme Court of Illinois, by rule, may provide for mandatory arbitration of such civil actions as the Court deems appropriate in order to expedite in a less costly manner any litigation wherein a party asserts a claim not exceeding $50,000 or any lesser amount as authorized by the Supreme Court for a particular Circuit, or a judge of the circuit court, at a pretrial conference, determines that no greater amount than that authorized for the Circuit appears to be genuinely in controversy.
735 ILCS 5/2-1001A.
In the event that arbitration is compelled by the court, the rules of the Uniform Arbitration Act do not apply and procedures and requirements may differ slightly.
Mediation is another alternative to ligation that is more appropriate where parties are prepared to negotiate with one another. An unbiased third party, the mediator, facilitates the negotiation by managing the interaction between the parties and assisting them in open communication in accordance with the Uniform Mediation Act (710 ILCS 35). In some ways it is a more collaborative process than either litigation or arbitration and the goal is to end with an agreed upon contract which will be signed by both parties. If either party were to fail to meet their burden under the resulting contract, the other party could then bring suit for breach of contract in court.
Since resolving personal injury disputes has different avenues, each having different benefits and setbacks, it is important to discuss your options with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney. Call McCarthy, Rowden & Baker at toll free 1-800-373-6050 today!