Assigning Damages in Illinois Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Despite what you may have heard on the news or read in the newspapers, dollar amounts are almost never specified before a case goes to trial. Every now and then a lawyer will say to a newspaper that "We are suing for $50 million dollars." Not only is that a bad reflection on lawyers, it also has nothing to do with reality in Illinois. The reality is that when you file a lawsuit, the only time that you mention dollars is to help you determine which division of the court it belongs in.
In Illinois, cases filed for estimated damages of less than $50,000 will end up in municipal court. The reason a lawyer would state this claim is so they can get their case to trial and/or arbitration faster. While this limits your damages, if you know that your case isn't worth more than $50,000.00 it is the right thing to do. For example, if you are trying to collect a $20,000.00 debt, you would file it in the municipal court.
When the estimated damages exceed $30,000, then the case will be held in the law division of the Circuit Court. Almost every Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit is filed in the law division. While many cases seek damages in excess of $30,000.00, that is a question for a jury. You may be wondering, how is it determined where the cases are filed if the dollar amounts are kept unrevealed? The answer is that in cases that are filed in the law division of the Circuit Court, the attorney who represents you will sign a sworn affidavit stating that they believe the damages are in excess of $50,000. Whether your case is worth $50,000.00 or $10 million, the law division is where the suit will be filed and heard.
If you think about it, it wouldn't even make sense in most cases to state what you think the case is worth in the beginning. For example, if you are in a car accident and a lawsuit is filed while you are still receiving medical treatment, there would be no way to figure out your damages until your treatment is done.
So the next time you hear a loud mouthed lawyer on TV saying how much he is suing for, please take it with a grain of salt. These lawsuits take a long time and until the discovery process takes place, there is usually no way to say what a case is really worth.
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