There’s never a good time to get injured in a car accident. Unfortunately, no matter how safely and responsibly you drive, you are always at risk for being involved in a crash when you share the roads with drivers who are inattentive or reckless.
At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC, our Illinois car accident attorneys know the physical, emotional and financial impact a car accident can have on you and your family. Our Chicago law firm has experience representing thousands of individuals in all types of car accident cases across Illinois, and we have compiled a list of car accident-related frequently asked questions that we hope will help you in understanding your rights following a collision.
If you have questions about your personal auto accident case, we welcome the opportunity to discuss your situation with you without any expense or obligation on your part. We handle car accident cases on a contingency fee basis—meaning there is never a fee charged unless we obtain financial recovery for you.
Below is a compilation of common questions people have about car accidents involving themselves or a loved one. If you have questions about your specific situation, we welcome the opportunity to discuss your case with you in person. Call us any time at (888) 424-5757.
Auto Insurance FAQ's
Do I have to Give a Statement to an Insurance Company When I Have Been Injured in an Accident?
No, you are never required to talk to anyone after an accident except for a police officer regardless of who they represent.
After you have been injured in an accident, there may be numerous people trying to talk to you. This is the point where issues of fault for an accident and issues of financial compensation arise, and insurance companies begin to fight it out to see who has to pay for the accident. Every insurance company’s self interest lies in trying to both avoid responsibility for the accident as well as minimize the amount that they will be required to pay as their profit motive depends on it. As a result, insurance companies will try to get the parties to an accident on the record in the hopes that it will help minimize their financial responsibility when it comes time to pay. Your interests and those of an insurance company are not always the same.
While these questions may appear harmless to you at the time, you never know how an insurance company will try to use your answers against you at a later date. The other driver’s insurance company may be trying to pass themselves off as your friend and their questions may seem inoffensive, but they know exactly what they are doing and they are not your friend in any way. Instead, they are the company that is trying to keep you from getting every penny that you deserve as a result of your injuries because it means that the money comes from their account.
Know that you never have to speak to an insurance company after your accident and it is generally a bad idea to do so. Your own insurance company will not require you to give a statement, but you should consider telling them your side of what happened so they can go to bat for you when it comes to determining liability. Let your personal injury attorney handle communications for you and do not attempt to speak with the insurance company after an accident. Do the bare minimum, which includes sending a letter of notification to the insurance and most of all, never ever admit fault for the accident.
When does my car insurance need to pay for my injuries when another person is at fault?
Your insurance will need to pay when the other driver is uninsured or underinsured or fault is being litigated.
Illinois law requires that motorists have a certain minimum amount of auto insurance when they own a vehicle. However, the insurance requirements are relatively low and drivers may have bare bones auto insurance policies that only provide for limited amounts of coverage in the event of an accident. Alternatively, some drivers may be breaking the law when they get behind the wheel of a car and may have no insurance whatsoever. You can never assume that every driver on the road is adequately insured.
When either of these two occurrences happen, you are not unprotected because your auto insurance will have to compensate you for your injuries. It is not your fault that the other driver either did not have enough insurance or had not insurance at all and you should not suffer because of it. Illinois law (215 ILCS 5/143a) requires that you are protected if you are involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist because you will have uninsured and underinsured coverage. The law dictates that you are compensated no matter what since you do not control the fact of whether the other driver has insurance, and you will receive payment if you have followed the law.
If you have been injured in an accident, medical bills may begin to pile up immediately after the accident and they must be paid. Your insurance company may pay these bills while liability for the accident is still being determined and the other driver’s insurance company may be withholding payment. Until the other driver is found to be at fault, their insurance company is not obligated to pay anything. If you are ultimately determined to be at fault for the accident, it will be your insurance company who is on the hook for your medical bills. However, if the other driver is found liable, your insurance company will be reimbursed for what they have spent on your medical bills.
What does it mean if the driver at fault for the accident has “full coverage?”
On its own, this does not mean much until you learn all of the details of their coverage.
Illinois law dictates certain minimum requirements for auto insurance policies for state drivers. However, you may be surprised to learn that these minimum requirements are actually quite small. In many instances, these are nowhere near enough to fully compensate you for the injuries that you have suffered, including your lost earnings and medical bills. Therefore, full coverage may not mean much until you learn the actual amounts of the insurance policy.
For example, in Illinois, the bare minimum in an auto policy is $25,000 bodily injury per person per accident. In reality, this is quite small and certainly not enough to cover the costs of an injury, especially when the harm is more substantial. Even the costs of surgery for a fractured limb can approach six figures. Drivers may not have an incentive to have insurance beyond the bare minimum, especially if they do not have any assets that could be at risk in an auto accident lawsuit. Thus, you may be looking at a large amount of damages that may not be covered by the other driver’s insurance as they are above the policy limits.
While it seems unfair, you could be facing severe financial difficulties as a result of an accident that was not your fault. This can be avoided by purchasing uninsured motorist coverage that can fill the gap when you are in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured driver. You should resist the temptation of saving a few dollars by having a minimum amount of coverage in this area. You never quite know when you can be saddled with massive bills because you have been involved in an accident with another driver who was trying to save money on their insurance. What is considered full coverage for purposes of following Illinois law may not be full coverage for the purposes of paying you what you deserve and, if that happens, you will be out of luck without adequate coverage of your own.
Is car insurance required in Illinois?
Auto insurance is a requirement for all Illinois drivers, but the amount of required coverage is quite small.
All Illinois drivers must purchase car insurance. Illinois law prescribes minimum coverage that you must have in several different categories. However, as you will see, these required minimums are quite small and you are at risk of not receiving a payment large enough to compensate you for your injuries. Specifically, Illinois requires the follow amount of minimum coverage:
- $25,000 bodily injury per person per accident
- $50,000 bodily injury for all persons per accident
- $20,000 property damage liability
- $25,000/$50,000 uninsured motorist bodily injury
- $25,000/$50,000 underinsured motorist coverage
Every Illinois driver must have proof that they are insured. Failure to provide proof of insurance will result in a fine so this means that you should have a physical card to show just in case your mobile device runs out of power. If you are caught driving without insurance in Illinois, you can face a large fine and your license plate can be suspended for up to four months, meaning that you are effectively prevented from driving. The minimum amount of fine for driving uninsured is $500.
If you do not carry auto insurance, an even bigger consequence is that your assets are at risk in a lawsuit. If you are in an accident and you do not have insurance to pay for the damage, the other driver can come after you personally, which means being able to take practically everything but your home, subject to only a few limitations. At the same time, if you are in an accident with an underinsured driver, you will have to rely on your own insurance coverage to make up for the shortfall.
What does it mean if your health insurance provider has subrogation rights when it comes to your auto accident claim?
Subrogation is the right of the health insurance company to be paid back for what they already paid on your behalf if you receive compensation from the other driver.
You may be disappointed to know that when you receive a personal injury settlement, not all of it may end up in your bank account. There are others who may rightfully and legally have a claim to receive part of your settlement of jury award. This is on account of money that they are already paid out on your behalf. This is called the right of subrogation and it is something that someone else possesses as a condition of a contract that you have already signed.
While this may seem unfair, it makes perfect legal sense. The most common type of claimant who possesses the right of subrogation will be your health insurance company. When you sign your insurance policy and legally agree to it, one of the terms and conditions of the policy is the right of subrogation. This means that they can be paid back out of your settlement. If the health insurance were to pay money on your behalf and were not to be paid back, you would be receiving a windfall.
In Illinois, the health insurance’s right of subrogation is not unlimited. There is a state law that mandates that the insurance company reduce their subrogation claim if the amount of the settlement means that you would be receiving nothing after the health insurance company was paid. Also, if your settlement is reduced due to the fact that you were partially at fault for your injuries, then the health insurance must reduce the size of their claim. In addition, when the medical insurance exercises their right to subrogation, they must pay for their share of your attorney’s fees. A personal injury attorney will be able to explain to you in greater detail how subrogation works and will work to protect your rights to the maximum extent possible.
What are some reasons that an auto insurance company may deny your claims for medical bills or property damage after your accident?
The insurance company may either be uncertain as to who was responsible for the accident or they may think that you are not fully following their rules.
If you are at fault for your accident, you will not be able to recover from insurance. In Illinois, your recovery is barred if you are anything more than 50 percent responsible for the accident. (735 ILCS 5/2-1116). If you have filed a claim and the insurance company is not paying it, they may believe that you are at fault for the accident. Alternatively, they may think that you are at least partially responsible and they have not yet settled the issue of liability with the other driver’s insurance company.
Another reason for claim denial is procedural. It could be that the insurance company thinks that you are not following their rules for properly reporting a claim. Your policy sets forth procedures and timeframes that you must follow when reporting an accident. Perhaps you did not submit the claim in the required time period or you reported it incorrectly. In any event, insurance companies are sticklers for their own rules, especially when it comes to them paying out money.
Alternatively, the insurance company may not believe your claim or your side of the story. If an insurance thinks that you may have made a false statement, they will often deny your claim. Another reason for claim denial is that your insurance company may believe that you are seeking excessive damages. When it comes to dealing with an insurance company, you are often at a disadvantage because they have an army of an attorneys on their side and are looking for a reason to deny or reduce your claim. This is why you are best off with an attorney of your own when you are filing an auto insurance claim because your attorney will know whether the reason that the insurance company is denying your claim is legitimate or if it is red tape meant to make it more difficult to receive proper compensation. The attorney will also help you properly file your claim to avoid some of the common pitfalls.
Car Accident Injury FAQ's
If I missed work due to my auto accident injuries, can I recover my lost wages?
So long as you can prove that your injuries caused you to be unable to work and can demonstrate your wage losses, you can recover for lost wages.
One of the aspects of damages in a car accident settlement or lawsuit is lost wages. Your settlement must put you in the same position as if you had never been injured at all in an accident. This includes economic damages such as lost wages because you would have been able to work at your job had you never been injured.
In some instances, your injuries may be so severe that you are not able to return to work shortly after your accident or even not at all. Some employers do not offer ample sick leave or any at all so, at some point, your time out of work ends up coming out of your paycheck. This is even worse for jobs that require physical labor where your injuries may prevent you from ever returning to your job. For example, if you work in construction or in a factory, you will not be able to stand on your feet if you have permanent injuries. Lost wages will present you with financial difficulties because this is the money that puts the roof over your head and food on the table.
So long as you can document the wages that you lost, you can receive them paid back to you in a settlement. Oftentimes, this is a point of contention when you are negotiating a settlement because the insurance company will try to minimize both the extent of your injuries as well as the amount of earnings that you have lost. This is where a car accident attorney can help because they can establish exactly what you have lost and they will know exactly what is compensable. Make sure that you have your pay stubs and tax returns handy so that you are able to persuade the insurance company to pay you what you deserve. If not, you can take the matter to court to recover what you are due.
If I was in an accident with a company-owned car, is that company responsible for paying damages?
Yes, if the car was driven by an employee who was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the accident.
When an employee is on the job, they are considered to be an agent of their employer. Any acts that they do while at work, their employer is legally responsible for in a lawsuit. Thus, if the other driver was at work while behind the wheel of the car when they had the accident with you, their employer will be liable for your damages. This benefits you because the company has deeper pockets to pay you the financial compensation that you deserve.
Of course, many times the legal issue is not as simple as it appears on the surface. Some companies classify those who drive for them as independent contractors. This classification, while seemingly a legal fiction, includes some truck drivers as well as Uber and Lyft drivers. When a driver is an independent contractor, there is no employment relationship and the driver is representing themselves as opposed to any employer. This means that you can only recover from the driver and their insurance as opposed to the company which can limit the amount of your recovery.
Another important issue that will decide whether the company is liable is whether the driver was acting within the scope of their employment when they had their accident. For example, if the employee was not on the clock and was acting for their own personal benefit, it would not be considered within the scope of employment. However, if they were performing work tasks, such as driving to or from picking up a delivery, the employer would be responsible. However, in Illinois, driving to or from work in the company car is not considered to be within the scope of employment. Pyne v. Witmer, 129 Ill. 2d at 356 (Ill. 1989). Oftentimes, this will become a matter of factual dispute that your car accident lawyer will have to argue on your behalf in court since companies and their insurers will do whatever they can to avoid liability.
Can I sue my spouse for injuries that my child suffered in a car accident?
Yes. Your spouse can be sued for negligence if your child was injured in a car accident while they were driving.
The important thing to remember here is that the right to recover for injuries sustained in a car accident belongs to the minor child instead of to the spouse. Even if it is awkward, it may be in the best interests of your child and their care to pursue a legal action against the spouse because the money will be there for them when it is necessary to fund medical care.
Illinois law allows one spouse to sue the other for torts committed during the course of the marriage. The Rights of Married Persons Act (750 ILCS 65/1) allows you to sue both for injuries that you have sustained as well as your child. If your child successfully recovers money, it would go into a trust to pay for the costs of their care. Oftentimes, considering that the money would come from an insurance company, this may actually be the prudent course of action to act in the best interests of your child because your spouse will not be paying from their own pocket.
Similarly, you also have the ability to file a lawsuit against other family members for injuries that your child sustained when riding with them. You should always do what is best for your child, even if it may present an awkward or uncomfortable situation. Theoretically, the right to recover belongs to your child and you should think twice before electing not to pursue remedies on their behalf. If you do not file a lawsuit on behalf of your child, the child themselves has two years after they turn 18 to file their own cause of action. (735 ILCS 5/13-211).
Can the medical professional who treated me place a lien on my car accident settlement?
Subject to certain limitations on amount, a surgeon or other physician can place a lien on your settlement or award to make sure that they are paid for their services.
One of the unpleasant facts about a car accident settlement is that it takes some time to negotiate the settlement and then for it to be paid to you. This is even more pronounced if your claim goes to trial because the legal process can take several years to play out from start to finish. In the meantime, there may be several different types of professionals who have provided you with services for which you are not yet able to pay. One of these classes is medical professionals and surgeons. They need to know that they too will get paid. As a result, they are able to put a lien on your future settlement to make sure that they will get their money.
The good news for you is that your surgeon and the hospital where you were treated cannot place a lien that would entitle them to receive your entire settlement. Under Illinois’s Health Care Services Lien Act (770 ILCS 23/10), the total amount of medical liens on your settlement cannot exceed 40 percent. This ensures that there is money left over for you and you will not be left without anything if the insurance settlement does not cover the full amount of your medical expenses.
You may have the doctor and the hospital that have placed liens on your settlement or verdict. In this case, each of them may place a lien on twenty percent of your settlement amount. If it is just the doctors that are placing a lien, then they are limited to 33 percent of the settlement. Medical providers must share proportionally in your attorneys’ fees when they are reimbursed from the proceeds of your settlement.
What kind of monetary damages am I entitled to in a car accident settlement or verdict?
You are generally entitled to three different types of damages: economic damages, non-economic damages and punitive damages.
Economic damages are meant to compensate you for the money that has either come out of pocket or that you have not been able earn due to the injuries that you suffered in an accident. Here are some examples of different types of economic damage:
- Lost wages due to time missed from work both in the past and the future
- Costs of medical care including ambulance transfer, hospitalization and costs of treatment both inside and out of the hospital
- Damage to your vehicle and costs to repair your vehicle as well as money that you had to spend to rent a car in the interim
- Costs of home health care and modifications to your home to accommodate your injury
Non-economic damages are the intangible losses that you have suffered that now must be quantified when it comes to your car accident settlement. These may include losses in terms of your quality of life and other pains and inconveniences that you have suffered as a result of your injuries. The good news is that you can recover for these after a car accident because your settlement is supposed to put you in the same position as if your accident never happened. Here are some examples of non-economic damages:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
In rare cases, you may be entitled to punitive damages from the other side, but only if the case goes to trial. Insurance policies will generally exclude punitive damages so collecting on them is not always easy even if you are able to get them. Juries will want to send a message that significantly egregious conduct must be punished and they do so by assessing punitive damages. There must be reckless or wanton conduct such as a drunk driving case or traveling at extreme speed. Note that punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit are exceedingly rare and are only awarded for the worst of conduct.
I was involved in a chain reaction auto accident. How is the at-fault party determined?
The facts are circumstances of the particular accident will have to be examined closely, but the actions of all of the drivers will be scrutinized in order to determine and apportion fault.
In a multi-car pileup, it is often difficult to determine who is at fault. The car that hit you may not be the vehicle whose fault the accident is. This is often a complicated analysis, and it is helpful to have an attorney on your side if you have been in a multi-car crash. The driver at fault for the first collision may not automatically be responsible for the entire accident depending on what the other surrounding drivers may have been doing.
A multi-vehicle accident usually starts with one collision which is then followed by a number of secondary collisions. One car may rear end another and then a number of cars behind that car cannot stop in time. Alternatively, one driver may lose control of their car and then careen across the roadway, starting a chain reaction crash.
In some cases, it can be one small simple failure of one driver that can spark a chain reaction. For example, one driver can make an improper lane chain, causing a crash. Then, other drivers traveling behind are unable to avoid the crash. Add to this the fact that a third driver who is collected in the crash may have been speeding and you are left with a situation where each driver may bear a portion of the responsibility. As a result, what each driver was doing at the time of the accident, including their rate of speed and what they could have done to avoid the accident will be scrutinized by an insurance company or a court. No matter what role you played in the accident, you will need to carefully account for your actions when it comes to determining liability so that you may recover for any injuries or damage that you suffered.
Car Accident Litigation FAQ's
How long do you have to file a lawsuit when you have been injured in a car accident in Illinois?
You will need to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations, which is two years in Illinois.
In Illinois, as in any state, you do not have an indefinite time period to file a lawsuit should you fail to reach a settlement agreement. This is out of fairness to the other party in the lawsuit who should not be made to have to defend themselves in court many years after the incident occurred. As a result, Illinois law requires that you file your car accident lawsuit within two years of the time that you knew or should have known of your injuries. (735 ILCS 5/13-202)
Note that we just said that the key point is when you knew or should have known that you were injured as opposed to the date of your accident. In most cases, these two times are the same because you know what your injuries are right after your accident. However, in some cases, you may not realize that you have been hurt at the time of the accident. This is true when you have physical damage such as a back or neck injury that may not start to hurt until some time after the accident. The applicable date for the statute of limitations would be when you knew that you were hurt, but you may not want to take the chance to delay until that date because, if you are wrong, you will lose the right to sue. Also, since the statute of limitations begins to run when you should have known that you were injured, you cannot ignore obvious signs of an injury for too long.
Cases take some time to prepare so you will not want to wait too long to file your lawsuit. At the same time, your complaint that you file with the court will need to be strong enough to survive if the other party tries to file a motion to dismiss. You must lay out enough facts to persuade the court that they will feel that they need to hear more. This means that you should find a lawyer soon after your injury so that your claim can be fully investigated and filed with the court before the statute of limitations runs. This deadline is a hard deadline and your case will be barred forever even if you only miss it by one day.
How long does it take to settle an Illinois Car Accident when there are injuries?
This depends on the complexity of the case and how clear-cut the issue of liability is.
When you have filed a personal injury lawsuit, one of the first things that you are wondering is when you will be able to get your money if the case settles. You may have bills and expenses or are missing time from work and are understandably facing a financial crunch. Unfortunately, we cannot give you a definitive clear-cut answer. The best response that we can give you to this question is that it depends. You can expect that your case will take between several months and several years to settle. Then, we can explain to you some of the factors that are involved in how long it takes to settle your case.
The first issue that will decide whether your case settles and how long it will take is the question of liability. Sometimes, it can take a while to figure out who was responsible for the accident. An insurance company will generally settle a claim when they think that they are doing it for less than they would be required to pay if the case went to court. Then, the issue of damages needs to be resolved. It may take some time for the two sides to agree on what the proper amount of damages is, especially when the injuries increase the amount of the settlement. There may be some items such as lost wages that are in dispute. In other words, settlements take time and may not happen overnight. In many cases, your claim will not settle until right before trial if it is being litigated because the insurance company is not motivated to settle before then.
In terms of timing, you should not be overanxious to settle your claim because you need the money. The insurance company knows that people want to settle and may make you a lowball settlement offer to see what you will accept. Your Illinois car accident lawyer can advise you as to what is a fair settlement amount. Insurance companies are known to take advantage of parties who do not have legal representation since they have superior knowledge when it comes to the value of your claim.
How much does it cost to hire a personal injury lawyer to represent me in a lawsuit in Illinois when I have been injured in an accident?
You will pay nothing out of your pocket and your personal injury lawyer is only paid if you recover money for your injuries.
Personal injury lawyers work on a contingency basis. Broadly stated, this means that if you do not get paid, neither do we. This means that no money comes out of your pocket. If you are not successful in your claim, you will not be facing a bill for our services. When you talk to your prospective personal injury lawyer, your initial consultation will be also free. At that point, you will learn what the lawyer’s contingency fee is. Should you choose to retain the lawyer to represent you, the amount of the contingency fee and any other fee arrangements will be in writing in the representation agreement that both you and your lawyer will sign. In other words, everything is spelled out and nothing will be a surprise.
Unlike other lawyers, an attorney in a personal injury case is not paid on an hourly basis but is compensated as a percentage of your settlement. Typically, a lawyer will charge roughly one-third of your financial recovery as their fee. Your financial recovery is defined as either your settlement or jury award. Many lawyers will charge a slightly higher percentage if your case goes to trial because it is more of an investment of time and effort on their part. Your lawyer will not want to spend a great deal of time on a case if they do not think that there is at least a good chance that you will receive money because it means they will be working uncompensated time.
Accordingly, your lawyer will be paid out of the proceeds of your settlement or award. You will receive a check for the amount of your settlement minus your attorney’s fees and court costs. Some attorneys will not expect you to pay any court costs if you are not successful. However, some Illinois attorneys will require you to pay court costs and fees if you are not successful. This will not be a surprise bill at the end of the case if your attorney does require payment for court costs since it will be in your signed representation agreement.
What happens if the other driver pleads guilty in traffic courts for their actions in your accident?
This can be considered evidence that can help further your claim in court.
A traffic offense is a criminal offense and evidence of a criminal offense is admissible in a civil trial if the party has admitted to it. For purposes of your accident, the police should always be called after the accident to write an accident report. Sometimes, the police will decide to issue a citation to one of the drivers in the case. For example, one driver could have run a red light that led to the crash, and they will receive a traffic citation when the police officer arrives at the scene.
In Illinois, a guilty plea in a traffic case is considered an admission. (Hartigan v. Robertson, 87 Ill. App. 3d 732 (Ill. App. Ct. 1980); Cogdill v. Durham, 43 Ill. App. 3d 940 (Ill. App. Ct. 1976)). A guilty plea is an acknowledgment that certain facts occurred as alleged, and it is done in a court with the full recognition of the consequences of the guilty plea. The fact that the other driver has pled guilty means that they are assumed to understand the ramifications of their guilty plea. Your lawyer can obtain a certified copy of the guilty plea, and it will be admissible evidence in your civil case.
Note that this only applies when the driver pleads guilty. If the driver is found guilty or not guilty after a trial, it would have a different result. In reality, drivers should never plead guilty to a ticket that is issued after an accident since it is considered an admission and they should have an attorney advising them of that fact. When they do, your car accident lawyer can use it to your advantage when your civil case goes to trial.
What is the impact on my case if the other driver was found guilty of DUI in my accident?
Depending on the other driver’s conduct, you may be able to pursue a claim for punitive damages.
Punitive damages are extremely rare in most personal injury cases. Ordinarily, in order to receive punitive damages, the actions must be so egregious that the jury feels the need to send a message by punishing the other party. In most ordinary negligence cases, the facts are not present to support this. One of the few exceptions to this is motor vehicle accidents when one party is driving under the influence.
Ordinary negligence is not enough to warrant punitive damages. The standard will require conduct that rises to the level of recklessness or wanton indifference. There are several steps that must be taken before you can ask for punitive damages in a car accident case. Generally, there must be some facts to support punitive damages so there will be a preliminary hearing to determine whether these facts are present. You also must be entitled to compensatory damages first in order to be able to seek punitive damages. Finally, you must request leave from the court to ask for punitive damages from the other driver.
Punitive damages require a high standard in Illinois. The Illinois Supreme Court has held that punitive damages require that the “defendant acts with such gross negligence as to indicate a wanton disregard of the rights of others.” Kelsay v. Motorola Inc. (72 Ill.2d 172, 186 (Ill. 1978)). In Illinois, driving under the influence is sufficient to constitute gross negligence since it is wanton and willful conduct. Note that there is a limit to the amount of punitive damages that you can receive in Illinois. You cannot be awarded more than three times the amount of your economic damages as punitive damages.