Frequently Asked Questions
About Personal Injury Cases in Illinois
I am embarrassed to call a lawyer because I might not have a case. What should I do?
You are not alone. Many people in your situation feel the same way, but calling a lawyer is the first, most important step to take. If you do have a case but wait too long, you may miss the statutory deadline, known as the Statute of Limitations. If that happens you may be forever barred from bringing the case. When you call Hurley McKenna & Mertz, we will respectfully listen to you and assess your situation free of charge. We have years of experience with all kinds of cases and will give you our honest opinion. There is no risk or expense in calling us. Waiting to consult a lawyer, however, could harm your case, so please do not hesitate.
I don't believe in suing people, but I've been injured. What should I do?
Even if you don't believe in suing people, you should be careful of giving up your rights. Usually, the party guilty of injuring you has insurance. If you decide not to bring a claim, your decision to give up your rights could hurt you while benefitting the wrongdoer's insurance company. It's best to consult an attorney to make sure you are protected. Not all claims require a lawsuit to be resolved. Sometimes the guilty party's insurance company will settle without a lawsuit. But a responsible attorney can help you preserve your rights while making the decision as to your next steps. Hurley McKenna & Mertz offers free consultations and can help you make an informed decision.
How do I find the best attorney for my case?
When you pursue a personal injury claim, you are placing your future in the hands of the lawyer you choose to work with. It is helpful to meet personally with any lawyers you are considering to get a feel for their personalities and find out how they will work with you to handle your claim.
Here are some helpful questions to ask potential lawyers:
- How long have you been practicing?
- Do you limit your practice to the fields of personal injury and wrongful death?
- Are you willing to take a case like mine to trial if that is the only means of obtaining fair compensation?
- How many cases have you tried to a jury?
- What is your win/loss record? (Keep in mind that if they have not lost their fair share of cases then they haven't tried enough cases and may not be aggressive enough to handle your claim.)
- Are you active in the state's Trial Lawyers Association? (Lawyers actively involved and holding leadership positions with the state's Trial Lawyers Association tend to be the most experienced and most successful trial lawyers in the area.)
Choosing an experienced attorney may be the most important step in assuring that you receive full and fair recovery for your injuries. Be careful to select a lawyer who shows you respect, understands what you are going through, and has the skills and experience to meet your needs.
Is my case too small for a lawyer?
Some injuries may be too small for a lawyer to pursue in court. But some injuries seem small at first only to become more severe over time. If you wait too long you may lose your right to bring a case at all. Even if you think your case is too small give us a call. We are staffed to handle large and small cases and we are always available for a free consultation.
I've been in an accident and insurance adjusters have called me to discuss the facts. Should I talk to them?
It's always best to talk to a lawyer before you discuss your accident with anyone else. Insurance adjusters work for their insurance companies, not for you. The adjuster's goal is to save his company as much money as possible, and this can often come at your expense. While it may be appropriate to discuss your case with an insurance adjuster at some point, you have the right to speak to a lawyer first and even to have a lawyer present when you discuss the accident.
How long will it take to settle my claim?
The answer depends on the case and can vary from several weeks to several years. Every case is different, but as a general rule, the more serious and complex the case, the longer it takes. Cases that can be settled without the need for a lawsuit can usually be settled shortly after your medical condition stabilizes. We recommend that you wait to settle until your medical treatment is finished so that it is easier to analyze your damages and decide on a fair amount of compensation. If the insurance company refuses to make a fair offer, a lawsuit may be necessary.
How much is my claim worth?
This is the most commonly asked question but one that is impossible to answer until all of the facts have been gathered and the relevant law analyzed. Any lawyer that promises a certain outcome without knowing all of the facts is either not being honest or is too inexperienced to handle your case.
Although it is impossible to put a dollar amount on a claim without all the information, you may be entitled to the following categories of damages if you are injured in an accident:
- Reimbursement for medical expenses.
- Reimbursement for lost income.
- Compensation for pain and suffering.
- Compensation for disability (for example if you are no longer able to lift heavy objects or play sports because of a back injury).
- Compensation for disfigurement (for example if you suffered scarring or a loss of limb).
- Compensation for aggravation of a pre-existing condition (for example if a prior back problem was made worse by the accident).
Wrongful death. Money damages are available to certain surviving family members when the death of a loved one was caused by another's negligence.
Survival damages. The estate of a deceased victim of negligence can recover money damages for conscious pain and suffering and other damages experienced prior to the death.
Again, the amount of money damages you are entitled to depends on your particular case. Remember, the decision to settle a claim is yours. Your lawyer should not agree to any settlements without your approval.
What does it mean to "file a suit?"
Filing suit is simply the act of filing legal papers at the courthouse. This usually happens if settlement negotiations with the defendant's insurance company or its lawyers have been unsuccessful. Today more than ever, insurance companies have decided that they can make more money by fighting claims and discouraging injured people from pursuing compensation. Most personal injury cases are still settled before trial, but at Hurley McKenna & Mertz, we are dedicated to fighting back. If you are not fairly and adequately compensated for your injuries, we will file a suit, prepare for trial, and fight for you in the courtroom.
My lawyer never calls me back. I have called ten times over a period of six months and never get a call back. What should I do?
Get a new lawyer. Like everyone, lawyers get busy, but there is no excuse for a lawyer avoiding your calls over such a long period of time. If your call is an emergency, your lawyer should have staff members or a message system so that your problem is handled quickly. If your call is routine, then you are still entitled to a reasonably prompt response.
If your lawyer is out of town or on trial, he or she may be more difficult to reach personally. During trials, trial lawyers often have to devote every waking moment to the case at hand. You will want this kind of dedication if your case goes to trial. However, all calls—whether routine or emergency—deserve a prompt response from the firm.
Is there a deadline for making a claim?
Yes. It is called a "statute of limitations." This is a law passed by the state legislature, or by the United States Congress, that limits the time in which you can bring a lawsuit. If the applicable statute of limitations expires before you file suit, you may be forever barred from bringing a suit. Thus, if you plan to pursue a personal injury claim, you have a fairly short time to act. Do not delay in consulting with an experienced trial lawyer as soon as possible.
What is the applicable statute of limitations for my case?
It depends on the type of case you have. The facts of your case may seem simple, but there are hundreds of statutes of limitation for different cases that can vary from six months to many years. It takes a qualified lawyer to figure out your statute of limitations.
What is a typical contingency fee?
Each case is different, with different risks and different potential results. In most personal injury cases contingency fees are 1/3 of the amount your lawyer recovers for you, but they can go up to 40% in particular cases involving novel legal issues. Before you sign a fee agreement with a lawyer, make sure you understand the basis for the lawyer's proposed fee.
Since my accident, lawyers or their agents have been calling me to ask for my case. What should I do?
That is unethical and you should report them to the Ilinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) at (312) 565-2600 or (800) 826-8625. Under the Illinois Code of Professional Ethics, an attorney may not directly solicit a case from a person who has been in an accident. Remember, clever advertisements or salesmanship are not necessarily valid indications of an attorney's qualifications. In choosing a personal injury lawyer the most important question to ask is whether the attorney is qualified to handle your particular case.