You've spent a great day at Memorial Stadium watching the Illinois vs. Ohio State game. It was your first time watching the "Fighting Illini" in person and you weren't disappointed. The crowd was electric, the game was entertaining, and you even got to see the statute of Red Grange -- The Galloping Ghost.
You pile into your Mini Cooper and begin the drive home. Just as you head down South West 4th Street, some jerk in a PT Cruiser runs a red light and slams into your passenger side door. RED MEANS STOP. It's a universal sign, and it's not subjective. Now, the tedious process of swapping insurance and having the cars fixed is about to begin.
What's next? Do you have to stop? Where are the police? Here's some information to help guide you through the process should you be in a car accident in the Champaign.
At the Scene
S-T-O-P. It's the law. If you leave the scene of an accident you could be charged with hit-and-run and face severe penalties. First, render "reasonable assistance" to those in need. This doesn't mean you have to personally lift up a burning car with your newfound super-human strength, but you need to call 911 for help if it's needed. Also, you are required to exchange insurance information with the other driver.
Seeking Medical Assistance
If you are injured, don't hesitate to seek medical assistance. Sometimes you won't notice any pain until the next day. Don't gamble with your health. See your doctor and explain to her any symptoms you might have and that you've been in a car accident.
Be prepared to exchange information with the other driver -- your name and driver's license number, the vehicle identification number of the car you are driving, the name and address of the car's owner, the name and address of your insurance company, and your insurance policy number. You may wish to collect contact information for:
- The other car's owner;
- Any passengers in the other car; and
- Any witnesses to the accident.
Consider making note of traffic and weather conditions. Pull out that trusty Smartphone and make it earn its keep. Snap pictures of the scene and accident from as many angles as possible.
Contact your Insurance Company and File an Accident Report
The next step is to report the crash to your insurance company and file an accident report with the Illinois Department of Transportation within 10 days after the accident. Each driver involved in an Illinois traffic accident must file a crash report if the accident caused a death, bodily injury, or more than $1,500 of property damage.
If you don't, you could you could be fined or lose your driver's license. Your insurance company may also refuse to pay any money to you or to protect you if others make a claim against you.
What Will My Insurance Company Ask?
Your carrier will open an investigation and a claims adjuster will contact you and do any or all of the following:
- Request a copy of the police report;
- Take photographs of your car;
- Contact the other driver(s);
- Talk to any witnesses;
- Ask you to sign a medical release form to review your records;
- Contact your medical provider;
- Request for you to get estimates on vehicle damage.
What If I'm Also at Fault?
Automobile accidents can be caused by a variety of factors, including driver negligence, defective vehicle components, poorly maintained roads, or badly installed parts.
Remember, it's important not to volunteer any information about who you think was to blame for the accident. Generally, you should not agree to pay for damages or sign any documents except a traffic ticket. Most important tip: always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.
If you have to go to court and fight your case, it may be best to consult with an attorney. To win your car accident case in court, you will need to prove the other driver was negligent. Illinois uses what is called a 51 percent modified comparative negligence standard. Basically, the amount of money you can recover from an at-fault driver is affected by whether or not you were also partially at fault for the accident.
If the judge or jury determines you were more than 51 percent at fault, you will not be able to recover anything. This may sound harsh, but it's the law.
Settling Your Case
Whether or not you should take settlements offered to you is an important decision. After an investigation, the insurance company will most likely attempt to reach a settlement agreement with you, depending on the type of damages you are claiming (such as personal injury or property.) You are not required to accept any settlements from an insurance carrier.
If you can't reach an agreement with the adjuster, you may have other options, such as appealing or initiating a lawsuit.
If you aren't sure what to do, a lawyer may be able to help. Many attorneys take auto accident cases on a contingency fee basis. In this type of arrangement, you do not pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, then you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. Take note, however, that a settlement is considered a "win" and plaintiffs have to pay attorney's fees out of a settlement amount.
If you do decide to sue, your attorney will provide details about where and when to appear in court. Here's a list of courthouses in the Champaign area.