Population shifts back to cities and other urban areas have coincided with transportation incident increases in recent years. More and more people are coming in contact with public and private transit and this creates a huge potential for incidents and injuries. Unfortunately, these accidents are far from rare in reality and pose a significant danger to pedestrians and drivers alike. These dangers often turn into lawsuits once victims have been injured. This article examines the size and nature of suits and awards related car, truck, motorcycle, bicycle, and pedestrian incidents.
Background on Vehicle Safety in U.S.
Before delving into the legal dimensions of this topic, it might be helpful to paint a picture of the breadth of this issue. The United States Census Bureau portrays an improving but still grim outlook of this scene. Since 1990, the number of motor vehicle accidents has gone down from 11.5 million to 10.8 million per year (as of 2009), and their corresponding deaths have fallen from 46,800 thousand to 35,900 thousand per year (as of 2009).
These figures include a 11,000 drop in fatalities for cars, a 1,500 increase for trucks (light and large combined), and a 1,300 increase for motorcycles over the same span of time. For non-automotive parties, the story is brightening as well, although, it is still not a rosy picture. From 1990 to 2009, bystanders killed in transportation accidents went down from 6,500 to 4,100 people per year; further, for bicyclists, this statistics fell from 900 to 600 people per year.
Different stories explain all of these tragedies: drunk driving, speeding, construction zones, cell phone usage, distracted drivers and many more. What runs through all of them, however, is the significant toll taken on the victims and their families. These costs include ongoing medical care (normally in the tens of thousands of dollars), loss in pay because of an inability to work, increased insurance costs (almost roughly 10%) and property damage (normally in the thousands of dollars).
At the national level, according to the Center for Disease Control, productivity and healthcare costs related to motor vehicle incidents exceeded $99 billion. This equates to roughly $500 for every person that can drive across the country. Ironically, these developments have had unexpected consequences on the insurance industry. Unlike healthcare, administrative, and other related costs, insurance premiums have actually declined over the last ten years. Since 2004, they have gone down by almost fifty dollars ($50.00).
Achieving Justice for People Injured In Transportation Accidents
We can understand a lot about how victims recover from these horrific experiences by looking at the size and kind of their compensation after they file suit. As noted above, this article looks at the period since 2004 and groups the three major transportation varieties separately, including those primarily involving motor vehicles (cars, trucks, and motorcycles), bicycles, or simply pedestrians. Beginning with the first from the list, Illinois had seen around a thousand cases emerge over the last decade related to motor vehicles. Unfortunately, more than half of them received less than fifty thousand dollars (50,000.00). In fact, at 72%, this group accounted for almost three quarters of the entire class of transportation plaintiffs.
Paradoxically, the next largest single group of plaintiffs earned more than five million dollars ($5,000,000.00) through jury award or settlement. This class comprised roughly 6% of the total. Those earning between more than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00) and one million dollars ($1,000,000.00) was roughly 15%. Finally, those garnering between one million dollars and five million dollars equaled approximately 7%.
By geography, almost exactly half of all cases were brought in Cook County, but other popular jurisdictions included DuPage County (7%), Kane County (9%), and Madison County (4%). Interestingly, for various substantive reasons, plaintiffs chose to file in federal court almost 15% of the time. Across all cases, however, the average return of compensation for plaintiffs was $579,677.
Evaluating Bicycle Accident Verdicts
Plaintiffs suffering bicycle accidents have had about as much luck as those in the motor vehicle category, and by that the case law suggests neither have had any. A little more than seven out of ten of all bicyclists claiming suit-71% in fact- have recovered less than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00). Another 17% of the total group gathered up to one million dollars ($1,000,000.00). The final 12% got more than one million dollars ($1,000,000).
This trend resembles the returns accomplished by plaintiffs from the motor vehicle class. Combined, all plaintiffs received approximately $528,083.33 in either award or settlement after filing suit. In terms of jurisdiction, bicycle victims closely mirrored their counterparts in motor vehicle accidents by bringing many of their suits to courthouses across Cook County. Although, the former brought slightly more to Cook County, roughly 61% of all cases to be exact. On the other hand, plaintiffs filing lawsuits related to bicycle accidents chose federal court at a lower rate –only 6%- than those involved in motor vehicle accidents.
How Pedestrians Fare When it Comes to Verdicts and Settlements For Their Injury Cases
Last but not least, pedestrians have not been spared the wrath of injury in transportation incidents. In fact, pedestrian and automotive collisions have almost as high of a rate of occurrence as traditional automotive crashes do. In the pedestrian circumstances, however, the story is a bit brighter with respect to recovery. Plaintiffs receiving fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00) or fewer had a nearly 10% less share than those in the previous two categories (motor vehicles and bicycles). They only accounted for 69% of the plaintiff class.
Rounding out the rest of the group, 19% of plaintiffs received between fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00) and one million dollars ($1,000,000.00). On average, pedestrians harmed by motor vehicles received approximately $582,971.81 per lawsuit (this includes 188 cases that received nothing). In terms of jurisdiction, pedestrians injured in transportation accidents sought justice in Cook County at a slightly lower rate than the other two categories, 52%, but federal venue was pursued at a higher rate than the other two, roughly 19%.
Analyzing Transportation Litigation in Illinois From the Perspective of the Injured
Reviewing Illinois case law involving transportation accidents, certain themes resonate in the public’s consciousness. In 2010, a law passed by the Illinois legislature banning the broad use of cell phones and computers while driving went into effect. 625 ILCS 5/12-610.2. While it has had significant criminal ramifications, thus far, the law and the role of cell phones has not played a major part in civil litigation.
Their presence across jury awards and settlements has been sparse. On the other hand, one factor that is a consistent mainstay through transportation lawsuits is speeding. This often comes up for two reasons. First, in most instances, it is self-apparent assuming its capture via eyewitness or video cameras. Second, it plainly illustrates that the driver was operating under the required standard of care. All drivers must operate their vehicles reasonable under circumstances.
In determining what is reasonable, courts often look to custom, particular circumstances, but statutes can also dictate explicitly what the definition of reasonable should be in this setting. Thus, in showing that a specific party was speeding, the opponent can establish negligent conduct. All told, speeding comes into play in approximately forty percent (40%) of all motor vehicle accident litigation.
Another repetitive storyline that emerges from the body of cases in this topic is alcohol. Due to Illinois statute, alcohol is another category of per se factors that immediately constitutes negligent conduct. Obviously, the law sets a limit at which drivers should not be on the road and everyone over that limit is by definition negligent.
However, even if they fall below that amount, plaintiffs have still used the presence of alcohol in the blood stream of defendants as part of a larger story of misconduct. They have used it to establish that the defendant could not maintain control of his or her vehicle, or to show that the defendant was inattentive or too distracted to adequately appreciate the impending problem.
Importance of Injury Severity In Illinois Motor Vehicle Accident Cases
Another important dimension to consider when understanding the size and nature of jury awards and settlements in Illinois is the type of injury suffered. This is often the main focus in jury deliberations and settlement negotiations.
Common types of injuries in accidents involving cars, trucks, and motorcycles include: broken bones (such as arms, legs, and ribs), herniated discs, soft tissue damage, and even death. Interestingly, most common inflictions suffered by plaintiffs do not transfer into substantial recovery in litigation or settlement. For instance, in over sixty percent (60%) of all cases where victims broke some bone in their body, they recovered less than one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00) and forty percent (40%) of the time they recovered nothing at all.
The story is similar for plaintiffs suffering herniated discs as a consequence of a motor vehicle accident. Here, they received less than one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00) over seventy-five percent (75%) of the time. Unfortunately, the story is most grim for plaintiffs with soft tissue damage because this group recovered less than fifty thousand dollars ($50,000.00) eighty-three percent (83%) of the time.
Grimly, the only injury for which plaintiffs significantly recovered was for that which they could not enjoy the remedy to their injury: death. In over half of all cases of wrongful death, plaintiffs bringing actions on behalf of the deceased victims received more than one million dollars ($1,000,000.00)- sixty-seven percent (67%) to be exact.
Jurors Becoming More Frugal With Awards for Injured Cyclists and Pedestrians
The outcome of lawsuits for bicycle and pedestrian accidents follows much of the same story as motor vehicle incidents: a downward trend of recovery for most injuries. For both bicycle and pedestrian collisions resulting in broken bones, the number of plaintiffs that recovered more than five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000.00) was less than impressive, thirty-two percent (32%) for the former and eighteen percent (18%) for the latter.
Each category of incident saw the majority of jury awards and settlement returns fall below one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00). This pattern was mirrored when victims suffered herniated discs and soft tissue injuries. Additionally, much as the same in motor vehicle incidents, wrongful death claims were the predominant source of plaintiff compensation within the bicycle and pedestrian circumstances.
One constant issue in controversy with transportation accidents and litigation is the source of injury. Inevitably, defendants’ counsel will move to illuminate that certain pains or harms existed before the incident in question. However, successful plaintiffs have countered that while some of their grievances may have predated the accident, the actual collision exacerbated their condition.
To make these arguments, expert medical testimony is required to state the grounds on which certain injuries can be considered permanent and what their impact will be on the future health of the plaintiffs. Then, the factual issue of the difference between the source of pain before the accident and the source of pain after the accident become a huge knot thrown to the jury to untangle.
Have More Questions About the Value of a Motor Vehicle Accident Case in Illinois?
While the foregoing provides an overview for understanding why and how plaintiffs received what they did from juries and settlements in transportation incidents, it does not at all attempt to explain what victims should do if they have been involved in an accident. For that, they should immediately seek the assistance of a competent attorney. That attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC can inform them of what they should do regarding evidence collection, medical attention and records requests, as well as further legal strategies. Contact our office for a free case review of your particular circumstance.
Sources and further reading