Personal Injury Claims Process In The State Of Illinois
In a personal injury case, we will first exchange written questions called interrogatories and documents with the insurance company. This process is called discovery, which is just a fancy legal way of saying, “The parties are going to exchange information and documents.” Once that step is completed, you would then give an oral statement called a deposition. At this point I would train you on how to speak to an insurance company’s attorney and their adjuster. Once your statement is completed, we depose (that is, take statements from) your doctors. It is important to have the right doctor so that they can give proper testimony about future problems that you may endure. Once these depositions are completed, then we take the depositions of other experts that either side may have. These experts may include the insurance company’s doctor or specialist in a certain field.
Defense experts are hired professionals who will say anything. The insurance company always hires a doctor who is a professional at giving testimony. Because the doctor is a professional witness and likely doesn’t even really see patients anymore, they always make a good appearance in front of a jury. Insurance companies have about five doctors that they use every time. This is where it is especially important that your attorney has background knowledge of these same five experts, in order to be well-prepared for their testimony.
In one case, the defense hired a toxicologist, which is someone who determines how much you may have had to drink. The defense attorney told me, “Hey, our toxicologist will say your client was drunk even if he just walked by a bar.” That is their standard protocol. These are the type of experts that insurance companies often use.
At this stage, we would capture their experts’ testimony and poke holes in it. When this step is completed, we would go to pre-trial, which is when a judge looks at the case and tell each side about the weaknesses and strengths of their case. The judge will then try to get the case settled. If a settlement is not reached, then we go to trial, which is whole other process.
PRO TIPS: HIRE AN ATTORNEY RIGHT AWAY, AND DO NOT MISS ANY MEDICAL OR LEGAL APPOINTMENTS
Be a model citizen when it comes to showing up on time, for both your medical and legal appointments. Stay in contact with your attorney, too—do not disappear. If you do want to call often, that is okay, but you have to remember that the case is going to take a while. The more time we spend talking, the less time I am able to spend going to the scene and capturing evidence.
Example 1: Mike’s “Lost Cause” Motorcycle Case
I would like to talk about the case that I had, which illustrates the importance of hiring an attorney early and conducting an aggressive investigation. It was a motorcycle-versus-car accident. The motorcyclist’s name was Mike, and he was on a motorcycle turning left in front of a car, which was going straight. Sure enough, Mike was hit.
Mike was thrown thirty feet in the air and almost died from his injuries. When the police arrived at the scene, Mike was carted off in an ambulance, and there was nobody but the driver of the car to give testimony to the police officer. The driver said, “Yes, it was his fault. He turned left in front of me against the light. I had the green light and he didn’t, so give him a ticket.” Police, like most others in society, tend to believe that motorcyclists are risk-takers, and so, therefore, they are much more likely to be at fault for an accident than a regular car driver would be. Unfortunately, the police officer fell for it and gave Mike a ticket. Mike talked to me soon after waking up in the Intensive Care Unit. Immediately after he called, I headed down to the hospital. I make hospital or home visits as soon as possible because they allow me to start working on the case and gathering evidence right away.
It looked bad for us, because not only did Mike get the ticket, which said it was Mike’s fault, but also it looked like there was no way to prove that it was not his fault. I asked the police officer, “Is there any chance that this accident is on video because it was at a fairly large intersection?” The officer said, “No, that intersection is not on video.” But I had a feeling that maybe the officer was wrong. It stuck in my craw, so I figured that before I give it up as a lost cause, I would go to the intersection to check for video cameras. Sure enough, about a hundred yards from the intersection I found the cameras. A couple of weeks later, I obtained the video and it showed that Mike did indeed have the right of way.
Mike had the light in his favor with the arrow protecting his turn, and so the car driver was at fault. Mike won his traffic ticket, and his case, because of the video. The point of Mike’s case example is, that though at first your claim may appear to be a lost cause, it may however be saved is by an aggressive investigation like this one. It is imperative that your attorney get to the scene right away because most videos are erased after a short period of time.
How Not to Harm Your Personal Injury Claim
PRO TIP: AVOID POSTING ABOUT YOUR CLAIM ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media is a major factor in everyday life today, especially with young people. Some people like to post about everything, including their accidents and injuries. Posting about your accident or about your physical condition on social media sites is not such a great idea, however. For example, my friend had a case in which his client was a weightlifter who had claimed a back injury. The client took video of some of his weight-lifting exploits and put it on social media. Of course, the defense found it right away and used it against the client. Believe me, one of the first things that these insurance companies do is go to social media sites and research your background. That is why you never post anything that is related to your physical condition or related to how the accident occurred because you are basically testifying against yourself. It will be used against you in a court of law.
PRO TIP: BE AWARE OF BEING CAUGHT ON CAMERA
Because insurance companies know how powerful video is, they will occasionally send out a private investigator to follow the injured person around. They may send an unmarked van to sit on your block or follow you when you go to the store. If you realize that this is happening, please be nice to them and bring cookies and lemonade. There is never a reason to be rude.
Seriously though, insurance company investigative tactics are quite sophisticated. Some insurance companies hire investigators with drones that can fly hundreds of feet in the air to capture still photographs or video—without you even knowing it. To test this out, my brother and I bought a drone. (It cost around a thousand dollars.) Sure enough, even as amateurs, we were able to learn how to use it to collect images with a couple hours.
Common Mistakes Made in the Personal Injury Process
PRO TIP: ALWAYS SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT
The first, and probably most common mistake made in the personal injury process is when a person does not seek proper medical treatment. Oftentimes, a person that has been in an accident will not use the ambulance service. However, if you think there is any chance you might be injured, get in the ambulance and go to the emergency room.
Let me repeat: take the ambulance from the scene of the accident. If a person does not take advantage of the 911 EMS (Emergency Medical Services), the insurance company will respond, “Hey, Mr. Balke, it couldn’t have been that serious, or else the person would have taken the ambulance to the hospital.”
Second, people often create gaps in medical treatment. They are worried about their health insurance, or about costs, and so they do not seek proper follow-up treatment until it is too late. For example, if I have an injury early in the month, and if I wait a couple of weeks to go see an orthopedic surgeon, it gives the insurance company a chance to say, “Hey, this isn’t related to the motor vehicle accident you had early in the month; this is related to something else or pre-existing issues.”
As mentioned in the previous chapter, degenerative changes are something insurance companies always try to use against us. But everyone has a degenerative condition: the regular wear-and-tear of life. Nevertheless, an insurance company will use that as a reason to deny many claims or offer pennies on the dollar. What they may say is, “Hey, this person didn’t seek treatment for a couple of weeks,” and now when they finally get an MRI, it shows that they do have some degenerative conditions in their knees or back. What I always tell them is, “Everybody has a degenerative condition. It’s called life.” I do not let the insurance companies use that against my clients.
In summary, while the personal injury claim process may seem intimidating at first, it becomes manageable once you hire an attorney and follow these three key points: 1) do not miss any medical or legal appointments; 2) avoid social media postings about your claim; and 3) seek medical treatment. Lastly, don’t be too concerned about incurring medical costs: I can get those reduced later on.
For more information on Personal Injury Claims Process In IL, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (815) 495-5598 today.
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