Our experienced Chicago car accident attorney discusses avenues of financial recovery and your legal options related to injuries sustained in an automobile accident occurring within Illinois.
What can you do to restore a sense of order and coherence to your world? How should you deal with the physical, emotion, and financial pain? How might the insurance process—and, potentially, the legal process—play out? What are the best practices?
We explore the statistics; the costs, types, and causes of automobile accidents. We explain what to do (and what to avoid doing) after an accident with Illinois law and how our law firm can help you.
Illinois Car Accident Statistics
Per official Illinois government figures, in 2016 alone, the state witnessed 324,473 car accidents, including 1,000 fatalities. 347 of the fatal wrecks involved improper safety belt usage; and 173 of these involved drivers with suspended or invalid licenses. 8,053 crashes in the state involved a collision with a pedestrian or bicyclist.
Economic Devastation Related to Automobile Accidents
The big picture perspective is astonishing. NSC estimates suggest that, in 2016, accidents in the United States led to $413.8 billion in damages, including loss of life and productivity.
There’s more. The average liability claim made against insurance policies for property damage as a result of a car accident topped $3,200 a few years ago. Doubtless, the number is even higher today. Meanwhile, the average insurance claim paid for medical treatment resulting from injuries caused in car accidents was $15,443 during the same time period. But insurance companies only pay about 50% of the total cost of car accidents. Injured victims are forced to cover around 26%. Think about that. (The responsible party, healthcare providers and charitable organizations pay most of the remainder.)
The economic implications go beyond the drivers. It is estimated that those who are not involved in auto accidents pay for 75% of the cost of car accidents through health and car insurance premiums and taxes.
Meanwhile, drunk driving is an adjacent, catastrophic problem. DUIs and DWIs account for roughly 20% of car accident-related economic loss. In 2010, drunk driving resulted in costs exceeding $44 billion nationwide. Again, that number is no doubt even higher today.
A Classification System for Illinois Car Accidents
Most can be grouped into just six categories based on the cause and potential consequences. They include:
- Single Vehicle Crashes
For instance: a driver loses control of her vehicle and exits the road due to inclement weather, or she collides with a building or object while trying to avoid an accident with another vehicle. Passengers in these crashes may suffer severe injuries for which the driver can be held legally accountable. Owners of damaged property can get compensation for their losses as well.
- Accidents at Intersections
Drivers often misjudge distance and the approaching speed of oncoming traffic. They run red lights, fail to yield to others and operate vehicles while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Many crashes are T-bone collisions, which place the driver or passenger at greater risk due to an impact from the side. Modern vehicles are designed to distribute the force from a front or rear impact away from the driver or passenger, but a collision from the side can cause severe trauma or death. Accidents at intersections have the potential to become multi-accident events. The force from the first collision can send one vehicle into another and create a chain reaction of collisions.
- Rear-End Crashes
Causes include tailgating, not braking quickly enough, and losing control due to inclement weather. The force often throws the victims’ bodies forward and then backward. Symptoms of traumatic brain injury or whiplash may not present immediately.
- Low-Speed Impacts
Accidents occurring in parking lots, side streets or as vehicles back out of their driveways may involve speeds under ten miles per hour. However, these can still be jarring enough to cause injury and damage vehicles. It is tempting to just trade insurance information and go on your way, but document the accident, take pictures of the scene, and undergo a precautionary medical evaluation.
- Commercial Vehicle Accidents
Large vehicles include charter buses, delivery vehicles, and large semi-tractors. If a commercial driver violated traffic or work laws, the trucker can be held liable. It is the responsibility of employers to screen their employees, however, if the trucker has a reckless driving history or repeated violations, the employer may share responsibility.
Bus and truck companies are notorious for cutting corners and forcing their drivers to shoulder the responsibility for maintenance. If mechanical failures and poorly maintained equipment contributed, the party responsible for maintaining the vehicle can share liability. The manufacturer is often considered liable in the event that commercial vehicle equipment failure or defects cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle.
- Side Swipe Accidents
Sideswipes often occur when drivers merge into traffic or change lanes without checking their blind spots. The damage can vary in degree, depending on the speed and angle of impact. These accidents can cause a chain of events if one vehicle is pushed into another and a vehicle spins out of control at high speeds.
Why Do Car Crashes Happen?
- Mechanical Failure and Defective Design
Auto manufacturers and parts suppliers indirectly cause thousands of wrecks because of defective or poor product designs. Common systems that fail to devastating effect include steering and suspension; tires and brakes; and lighting.
- Driver Error
The Insurance Information Institute has cataloged the most dangerous driver behaviors. Per a 2014 NHTSA study, as many as 28% of traffic fatality accidents involve speeding, and 40% involve alcohol. Distractions, such as cell phones, cause nearly 3,500 traffic fatalities and 400,000 auto injuries annually. 11,000 people die every year in accidents involving aggressive driving.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that more than 10 million people admitted to driving while under the influence of illegal drugs. Teens have higher accident rates than older drivers. Per the CDC, drivers 16 to 19 years old are three times more likely to die in a car crash than drivers over 20. Sleepiness also makes drivers worse. A 2014 AAA study found that fatigue contributed to 21% of all fatal traffic accidents on U.S. roads. USA Today reported that nearly 1,500 drivers flee the scene of fatal crashes each year. Failure to see others also kills. Many accidents occur when drivers don’t check their blind spot or fail to spot other vehicles or pedestrians.
- Bad Weather
Common weather hazards include: heavy fog, which impairs visibility; snow and ice, which impairs directional control and creates special problems on bridges and elevated roads; rain and flooding, which obviously makes roads slippery but also reduces visibility conditions and creates conditions for hydroplaning; and morning and evening glare, which leads to dangers such as sun blinding.
- Man Made Hazards
Inaccurate or incorrect signage can influence drivers and place construction workers and travelers in perilous positions. Relatedly, malfunctioning traffic lights increase the risk of intersection collisions. Construction zone errors endanger passing motorists and workers. Roads riddled with potholes and uneven pavement increase the potential for blowing out tires or causing other mechanical failures.
Guide for Dealing with Injuries Sustained in a Car Accident
Take these steps:
Call Your Insurer as Soon as Possible, but do not Admit Fault
If you wait too long to tell your insurance company what happened, you may be denied compensation or the path to obtaining compensation could be harder. Never admit fault, even if pressed to make a statement declaring your responsibility. Be honest about the facts. But be a journalist—do not editorialize.
Report the Accident
Alert the police about the accident. Relay the facts and only the facts—again, do not editorialize—to the officer. Ask for a copy of a police report or how to obtain a copy after it is filed.
Motorists who cause injury or death or damage in excess of $1,500 must submit a report to the Illinois Department of Transportation as soon as possible, and no later than ten days after the crash.
Individuals must also report crashes using the Illinois Traffic Crash Report form (Police Report) or the Motorist Report form (Motorist Report). Additional information is available from Division of Traffic Safety website on how to obtain and file the appropriate forms.
Get Medical Attention as Soon as Possible
Even if you do not have any visible injuries, consult with a physician. You may be unaware of injuries due to a state of shock or concussion.
Exchange Information With the Other Driver
Trade your telephone, address, insurance carrier, full legal name, license plate number, and additional contact information with all other drivers involved in the crash.
Document Anything You Remember About the Accident
Write down what you saw and heard while the event is fresh on your mind. If you’re too hurt to write, ask someone you trust to transcribe or record your account.
Take Photographs of the Scene
Photographs help insurance adjusters investigate. They may also be helpful to a jury if your case goes to trial.
Interview Witnesses About the Accident
Record their accounts. Note that almost every smartphone has a recorder function for a maximum of 8 minutes per segment, so you can easily record witness observations on your smartphone.
Discuss Your Case With a Qualified Car Accident Lawyer
Do not go it alone. An experienced law firm can protect your rights to obtain fair compensation.
What You Need to Know About Illinois Car Accident Law to Protect Your Rights
There is a time limit on how long you have to file a lawsuit. Take too long to get going, and you forfeit your right to compensation. This is important to bear in mind because there is a lot of work to do before filing suit. You must retain an attorney, conduct investigations, review legal doctrines, and construct your case.
In general, Illinois law says that actions for personal injuries must commence within two years. When it comes to property damage, you have five years to bring legal action.
Pick the right defendant. Some defendants have more resources than others. It is no use to sue a wrongdoer who has no chance of paying you. For instance, perhaps the driver was working for a company when he rear-ended you. If that company failed to train the driver or allowed that person to drive despite a shoddy driving history, you may be able to take action against that company (or its insurer).
Structure your case properly. Perhaps the driver or owner of the car acted negligently. The law defines this concept in a very specific way. To prove negligence, you must show that the defendant owed you a legal duty; he breached that duty; and that breach caused your injuries, which caused your damages.
Illinois is a “fault-based” state. The person responsible pays for the damages. But Illinois also follows a modified comparative negligence system in determining fault. A plaintiff must demonstrate that any fault of his own did not tally to 50% of the injury. Otherwise, the case will be dismissed.
Illinois law does not have a cap on damages. No limit exists for seeking compensation for medical bills, lost wages, property damages, pain and suffering, disfigurement, or loss of companionship.
Illinois law requires that all drivers maintain certain levels of insurance coverage as follows: Death or injury ($20,000 vehicle liability insurance); two deaths or injuries ($40,000 vehicle liability insurance); vehicle and property damage ($15,000 vehicle liability insurance); and uninsured motorist coverage (equal to insured’s injury coverage).
Typically, the insured will file an insurance claim under their own policy for medical bills, property damage, damage to their car, etc. However, if you are injured, you will typically want to obtain insurance proceeds from the at-fault party. The at-fault driver may not have any insurance coverage. In that case, you can either make a claim with your own insurer or sue the driver for damages. Collecting from uninsured defendants can be difficult, but the court does have the power to set up payment plans, garnish wages, and suspend licenses.
What are my Legal Options if I am Injured in an Auto Accident in Chicago?
Any person injured in an auto accident in Illinois may pursue the at-fault party to recover for his or her physical or emotional injuries, as well as property damage.
Examples of economic damages include anything tangibly related to a loss, including costs for an ambulance; emergency room treatment; appointments with specialized physicians; physical therapy; surgery; lost income; handicapped accommodations to home and vehicles; property damage; attorney's fees; and car rental expenses.
Non-economic damages can include compensation for punitive damages; pain and suffering; disfigurement; emotional distress; loss of normal life; and loss of society, in the case of a fatality.
Can I Settle my Car Accident Case in or Do I Need to File a Lawsuit?
The answer depends on many factors, including the liability aspects of the case; the severity of injuries; medical testimony to support injuries; and the degree of permanency related to the injury.
While some cases can be resolved directly with an insurance company, others must be litigated for the victims to recover a full and fair settlement. Frequently, insurers make offers to settle quickly to reduce their exposure. A tangible offer may be tempting, particularly if you face imminent bills and expenses. However, accepting this is rarely in your best interest. Once a case is settled with a signed release, you can never recover any additional monetary damages—regardless of how severe your injuries are or become.
How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit if I was in a Car Accident in Chicago?
In general, Illinois has a two-year statute of limitations for the filing of personal injury cases (including car accident injury and wrongful death lawsuits) and a five-year statute of limitations for property damage. Situations involving an injured minor or a municipal defendant can alter the statute and may require either the filing of a notice provision or filing of a lawsuit in a shorter period of time.
Does Illinois Require Drivers to Have Insurance?
Yes. Illinois requires all drivers to carry liability insurance coverage of at least $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident, as well as $15,000 for property damage. A driver failing to furnish such insurance coverage may have their license suspended. Illinois also requires that all drivers have uninsured motorist coverage equal to your policy's injury liability coverage.
What Needs to be Proved to win a Car Accident Case in Chicago?
To win your case involving personal injuries or wrongful death, there are certain things you must include in your initial lawsuit for it to be legally sufficient. If the driver or owner of the car was negligent, you need to show that: the defendant owed you a legal duty; breached that duty directly; and legally caused your damages. Additionally, you’ll want to consider whether a third-party, such as a bar that served alcohol to the driver who hit you, might also bear some responsibility.
Illinois has adopted a modified comparative fault doctrine. The damages you receive will be reduced by your percentage of fault. For instance, if you are 20% at fault for a car accident, you can recover 80% of the damages to which you are entitled. If you are more than 50% at fault, you will be barred from any recovery.
Consult with us for free. We will evaluate your case, collect evidence, negotiate with insurers, and build a case for trial.
How Much Money is my Car Accident Injury Case Worth in Illinois?
The value of your case depends on the facts and circumstances of your injuries and the party that caused the accident.
Illinois jury awards and settlement amounts tend to be modest on average. But they can be large, depending on what happened. Recent big cases in the state include a $2,450,000 award (Knee Injury); a $3,000,000 award (Wrongful Death); a $15,833,238 award (Brain Damage); a $1,155,000 award (Herniated Disk); and a $15,700,000 award (Facial Injury).
For example, consider one case that recently settled for $1,850,000. A driver hit a pedestrian in her early 70s. She suffered a head wound, memory loss, and issues with her gait. On top of that, she racked up close to half a million in medical bills. The driver was working for a large insurance company at the time. When the woman sued the driver, she claimed he was working at the time, allowing her to seek compensation from the company. The defendant settled to avoid a large verdict from a sympathetic jury.
Contact an Aggressive Chicago Car Accident Attorney Today
Nothing can take away the pain and stress that typically accompany injuries related to a car accident. We frequently represent people injured in automobile accident cases. Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC is committed to holding negligent drivers accountable to the fullest extent of the law. Contact our law office today and discuss your options.