Car accidents in and around Chicago happen far too often. In the blink of an eye, your life may change, leaving you injured and confused about what to do next. After a serious car accident, you will find yourself faced with many questions about how to best deal with the other driver, insurance companies, the police, medical forms and billing, your car, and possibly even your job, all while trying to recover physically.
Knowing what to do right after a car accident
One of the very first things that usually happens after a car accident with injuries, is a report to the police. In Illinois, drivers are required to file a motorist crash report no later than 10 days after an accident, if the accident caused more than $1,500.00 worth of damage or anyone was hurt in or died in the accident. This crash report has to be sent to IDOT- the Illinois Department of Transportation. If the police did not arrive at the accident site, you must also file a report with law enforcement following a car accident. The police may have come to the scene to provide assistance, help with the exchange of information, gather witness information, prepare a report, and possibly issue a ticket against the at-fault driver. It is important to provide the facts- and just the facts- as you remember them. Be honest (always) but do not editorialize or admit fault, since fault is not always clear cut and the aftermath of an accident is neither the time nor the place to be discussing blame. What is important is to cooperate with law enforcement and seek medical treatment if you were hurt. The rest of it can wait. You should also promptly report the facts of the accident to your own insurance company and avoid talking to the other party’s insurance company at all, until you have had the chance to speak to an attorney- even if you know that the accident was not your fault and you have nothing to hide. The insurance companies will want to take control over you and the situation, but playing by their rules is often the most harmful thing that you can do.
What you need to prove to succeed in a personal injury lawsuit after a car accident:
In Illinois, order to succeed in a claim or lawsuit against the driver of another car (or the driver of the car you were in, if you were a passenger), you need to be able to prove a few things:
- Negligence: There is a duty owed by all drivers to prevent harm to others. You need to prove that the other driver breached their duty by doing something wrong, for example, by following your car too closely, running a red light, or not being able to stop in time to prevent an accident. This is called negligence.
- Injury: If the other driver was negligent but you were not hurt, then you don’t have a case for personal injury. You might have a case against the other driver for damage, however.
- Proximate Cause: Causation, or ‘proximate cause’ is what links the negligence to the injury. You must show that not only that the other driver was negligent but that the negligence caused the accident and that the accident caused your injury. Nothing can be assumed.
Who was at fault? What if fault was shared?
Accidents are not always completely one person’s fault, or the other. Sometimes both drivers contributed to the accident. Different states have different rules about this, and in Illinois there exists something called Contributory Negligence. Basically, it means that if you are over 50% at fault, you can not win. If you are under 50% at fault, but still share in causing the accident, you can recover from the other driver but what you are entitled to is reduced by how much at fault you were. For example, let’s say that you were hurt in a car crash but while the accident was mostly the other guy’s fault, you were not completely blameless. How much were each of you to blame for causing the accident? There is no exact science behind it and when it looks about equal, a judge or a jury may ultimately be deciding this question. If you were 20% the cause of the accident, the dollar amount that you would have received if the other driver were 100% at fault, will be reduced by 20%. For example:
$60,000 value of your case
20% your fault
$60,000 x 20% = $12,000
60 minus 12 = 48
Your recovery is $48,000.
However, in the example above, if the other driver was only 20% at fault, you get nothing because you were mostly to blame for the accident.
Is Fault Determined based on the Type of Car Accident?
There seem to be widely held beliefs that depending on the ‘type’ of accident, fault becomes obvious, but this is certainly not always the case. For example, some people think that in rear-ender car accidents, the car that was in back and hit the car in front of it was automatically at fault. While this is often the case, it is not necessarily so. For example, what if the first car stopped suddenly, slamming on the brakes to avoid a family of ducks? That being said, it is a good idea to make note of everything that you can possibly remember about the accident, as soon as you can. This includes how you or your passengers or other witnesses remember it happening. Common types of car accidents include:
Rear End Crashes
Intersection Related Crashes at Stop Lights or Stop Signs
Lane Change Crashes
Blind Spot Crashes
Construction Area Crashes
Head on Collisions
Side Swipe or Side Impact Crashes
Expressway Merger Crashes
Vehicle Rollover Crashes
Hit and Run Accidents
Multi-Car Pile Ups
Drunk Driving or Distracted Driving Accidents
Seeking Medical Attention
It is true what they say, the most important thing after any kind of accident is that no one was hurt. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If you think you are hurt, it is often wise to at the very least get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible. Sometimes pain is not felt immediately and might not show up until the next day or even some time after that. If you are given instructions by a doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor, it is important that you follow their advice carefully and do what you can to feel better soon. Injuries from car accidents range from mild to severe, and of course- lead to numerous road deaths every year. People may want to hire, or at least consult with, a lawyer if they have one or more of these types of injuries:
- Whiplash or ‘Soft Tissue’ Injuries, often in the neck or back (won’t show up on x-ray)
- Broken Bones
- Wrongful Death (Death of a loved one)
- Herniated Discs
- Cracked or broken ribs
- Knee injuries
- Head injuries
- Internal Bleeding and the list goes on….
What can I be Compensated for?
The “damages” of a car accident case usually consists of reimbursement of medical expenses, prescription medications, medical devices, time lost from work due to the accident, pain and suffering, etc. Depending on the exact circumstances of your case, some of the above will not apply to your case or there may be other items that apply which were not included above. Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic formula to determine how much your case is worth.
What is the next step? Or, what If I just have questions but am not ready to hire a lawyer?
You know that you have legal questions, but you are not sure if you need to hire an attorney. You need answers. You have come to the right place. The reality is that you might not need to hire a personal injury lawyer, but if you were hurt in a car accident, at the very least you should be taking every step to find out how it all works. Gathering information can go a long way towards avoid making costly mistakes that could hurt you later. It is a good idea to educate yourself before you take calls from the other insurance company and certainly before signing anything. On this site you will find many answers to frequently asked questions. I believe in giving solid, honest information to Illinois accident victims so that they can take the best course of action after they have been hurt. Of course, if you are ready to talk and are considering hiring an attorney, be sure to reach out to find out if we can help.
If you were hurt in or around Chicago, give us a call at 630 250-8813 to schedule a time to talk with me during a free, no obligation strategy session. Phone or office appointments are available so that you can rest easy, feeling better prepared to handle what may be ahead.