Even the most careful driver could end up in a serious wreck. One moment you are calmly driving down South Chicago Avenue, enjoying the sites of the city. The next moment you hear screeching tires, broken glass and that horrible crunch of bent metal. Whose fault was it? Was the other guy hurt? How will you pay your medical bills? Sometimes a lawsuit is the only way to recover your losses, depending on how much insurance coverage the other motorist has.
Over 400,000 automobile accidents happen on Illinois roads every year. Of those, more than 90,000 will result in injuries and more than 1,000 in deaths. A small accident can be a terrifying experience, while a major one can change your life. Additionally, you must wade through the dense Illinois legal system to recover compensation. To help you navigate these murky waters, we have created a guide to prepare you for what to do after a car accident in Chicago.
See FindLaw's Car Accidents section to learn more.
It can be difficult to remain calm after an accident, but there are a few easy steps you can take to protect yourself from legal action. First, always pull over after an accident. Failing to stop could result in a "hit-and-run" criminal charge. State law requires you to give your name, address, and insurance information to the other party; you should get theirs, too. Also, it never hurts to lend a helping hand to any injured individuals or call for medical attention if necessary.
Second, you should report the accident to the Chicago Police Department if it resulted in death, bodily injury, or more than $1,500 in property damage. Try to preserve the scene as much as possible. Do not move a vehicle unless it is blocking traffic. If you must move a vehicle, take careful note of its position; photographs are even better.
You should also gather names, addresses, insurance information, driver's license numbers, and license plate numbers for everyone involved in (or who witnessed) the accident. However, it is better for your case if you do not volunteer any additional details until talking to a lawyer. In particular, avoid apologizing for the accident or stating that you caused the crash.
You must file a report with the Illinois Department of Transportation within 10 days of the accident. You may pick up the required forms from a local insurance agent or law enforcement office. Failing to file a report could result in a $2,500 fine and up to one year in jail.
This is a lot of information to remember after a traumatic accident, so FindLaw has provided a helpful, printable pamphlet covering first steps in the event of a car accident (PDF).
Illinois has adopted a "fault" system in determining financial responsibility for an accident. The person who was legally at fault for causing the accident must compensate anyone who was injured or whose property was damaged by the accident, typically through the insurance company. Illinois law requires all drivers to carry a minimum of $20,000 coverage for bodily injury liability and $15,000 coverage for property damage. However, if you have suffered severe injuries requiring more than $20,000 in medical care you will need to file a personal injury lawsuit to recover the remainder.
Types of Lawsuits
Negligence claims are the most common type of lawsuit arising from an auto accident. In a negligence claim, you must prove that the other driver failed to exercise reasonable care while operating their vehicle. This is easier to prove if the other driver was driving recklessly, breaking traffic laws, or intoxicated.
Illinois has adopted a modified comparative negligence rule for distributing damages. In a comparative negligence state, fault is assigned to each party and damages are reduced in proportion to your relative fault. For example, if you racked up $1,000 in medical bills as a result of an accident which was found to be 10% your fault, you will be able to recover $900 (or 90 percent of your claim) from the other party. However, if the accident is found to be more than 50 percent your fault, you will be barred from any recovery.
In fatal accidents, the surviving family members have a right to sue for wrongful death. This type of lawsuit seeks compensation for the survivors, such as lost wages from the deceased, lost companionship, and funeral expenses.
Alternatively, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer if a defect in the vehicle contributed to the accident. To succeed on this claim you must prove the following three elements:
- The defective car or part was "unreasonably dangerous"
- The vehicle was being operated as intended
- The vehicle's performance had not changed since its initial purchase
Filing a Lawsuit
The Illinois statute of limitations protects people from being sued for old injuries. For personal injury lawsuits, the statute of limitations for filing is two years from the day that you suffered the injuries. If you do not file your lawsuit within two years of the accident, you will be barred from filing.
To file a lawsuit you must draft a complaint, which is a brief explanation of the basis of your lawsuit. A complaint should be brief and plainly worded, but it has to be specific enough to show why you should win the case. You can try copying a sample negligence complaint involving an auto accident that you locate online, or alternatively, you may want to speak with an experience personal injury attorney who can draft the papers to initiate a lawsuit, gather the proper evidence, and negotiate a settlement with the opposing party on your behalf.
The Civil Division of the Cook County Circuit Court handles lawsuits worth $30,000 or less, while the Law Division handles cases worth more than $30,000. You can file your lawsuit in any of the Circuit Court's branches, or see FindLaw's directory of Chicago-area courthouses to find which location is appropriate.
Wrecked Your Car in Chi-Town? Get an Attorney's Help
Chicago is a hectic city, so fender benders and more-serious accidents are quite common. Most of the time, the parties involved can simply exchange information and be on their way, but some situations call for legal representation. If you need help figuring out what to do after a car accident in Chicago you can learn more about the legal implications by contacting a car accident attorney.