There is no “standard” answer to that question. In a nutshell, a pretrial — or pretrial conference — is a meeting with a judge to attempt to resolve a dispute. It can be relatively informal or it can be highly structured. A pretrial can involve the same judge who will try the case or who has ruled on motions on the case, or it can involve a completely separate judge.
Cook County Illinois has the largest consolidated court system in the country, so they have plenty of cases in need of resolution. There was a rather infamous Cook County judge who was acknowledged to have settled 600 cases a year!
Some pretrials are as informal as the attorneys and the judge meeting informally to discuss the issues at stake. In personal injury cases, this usually boils down to dollars and cents — what is the case worth and how much is the defendant willing to pay?
Often, pretrials can be more formal affairs, with the judge meeting the litigants and admonishing them of the seriousness of the situation.
In reality, however, the most common function of the pretrial is for the plaintiff to try to pressure the defendant into paying more money. And frequently the defendant will use the judge’s evaluation of the case as leverage to force the defendant’s insurer to pony up the appropriate amount of money. That is precisely what happened in a case my office recently settled after nearly four years of dispute.
Glenda’s case involved an ordinary auto crash. She slowed when the car in front of her was making a turn into a parking lot. She got rear ended by the car behind her. She hurt her neck and back. So far, pretty basic. Where it got interesting was when her previously managed Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder increased after the crash.
Her childhood had been unimaginable. With diligent counseling, she had made it through some pretty awful things and was able to hold down employment and relationships. But this crash set off her anxiety, her depression, and her PTSD. As insurance companies (and juries) don’t often understand “soft” injuries like psychological trauma or non-demonstrable injuries like concussions, they tend to fight these to the death. Anything and everything is questioned. Every single doctor was deposed. No stone was left unturned. Needless to say this increased Glenda’s stress (not unintended), and made things last quite a long time (also not unintended).
Finally, with a November trial date looming, things got to the point where we had to take one final shot at settlement before spending even more money to prepare for trial.
In our case, the judge we used was new to both me and to my opposing counsel as a pretrial judge. His style was very specific and detailed. He asked insightful questions about medical bills, causation, and what doctors said at their depositions. He really cut things down to the bare essential issues within minutes.
He visited with both attorneys together, then separated us and asked us questions apart. After the first session, the defense team’s offer had not increased much from what it had offered to Glenda before the lawsuit was filed three years before.
But parameters were gleaned privately and off the record. Armed with that, my opposing counsel pushed his insurer hard to come up near my demand.
The second session ended rather quickly. The offer nearly doubled. I discussed this by phone with Glenda. While we knew we’d accept this, I tried for more. And got everything we asked for.
Ultimately, it wasn’t that the other side did not believe my client. It was nothing more than they needed a judge to give his hints as to what the case might be worth at trial to force them to come up with more money.
As with any legal questions, your best option is to contact a lawyer immediately.
As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, immediately get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a personal injury lawyer.
If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has nearly 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.
Stephen handles personal injury and workers' compensation claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything upfront and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day, contact Stephen now.