Our team of litigators has substantial experience representing clients who have obtained injuries resulting from a variety of vehicle accidents including automobile, truck, pedestrian, bicycle and motorcycle accidents. If you have been injured in a vehicle accident, you are entitled to full compensation, which means not only your medical bills and lost wages, but pain and suffering and disability. Whether your injuries are temporary, permanent and catastrophic, our attorneys will work for you tirelessly to get you the fullest compensation.
As the largest law firm in McHenry County, and serving most of Northern Illinois, clients know and trust Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle attorneys because we are committed to excellence in every case we take. In 2013, Illinois experienced 1,001 roadway fatalities, and that does not account for the countless number of people who have been injured in car accidents. This page provides you with practical tips you will need in case you, or a loved one, is ever involved in a car accident.
What to Do If You Are Involved in an Automobile Accident
Seek Medical Attention Immediately after Car Crash
If there is a chance that you have suffered an injury in a car accident, seek medical attention immediately. This may sound obvious, but there are several reasons why someone who needs immediate medical treatment does not actually seek treatment. For example, in many instances after a traumatic event, especially after a car accident, the victim is in a state of shock and does not realize the true extent of his or her injuries. Thus, it is common for someone to believe they are “OK” or “just shaken up” when they are in fact injured. Others simply prefer to forego a visit to an emergency room or urgent care facility because they do not want to wait, or prefer to be treated by their own doctor. Whatever the case, if there is any doubt as to whether you are injured or a loved one is injured, seek medical attention.
Seeking immediate medical attention is not only important for your own well-being, but it is also an important component to your potential claim. Many insurance companies will try to reduce, or even deny compensation for your claim when serious injuries resulted from the accident but you did not seek immediate medical attention. Moreover, it is vital to your potential recovery that a doctor links your injuries to the accident with the proper documentation.
Lastly, do not tell others (including the other driver, witnesses, or police officers) at the scene of the accident that you are “OK.” If you are not suffering from any symptoms of an injury, then say “I don’t know if I am OK,” or simply do not say anything at all. Keep in mind that it can sometimes take between 24 and 72 hours for injuries related to car accidents to manifest.
Crash/Accident Reports and Calling the Police
When involved in any car accident, the best practice is to call the police as soon as you are out of harm’s way. Police officers are trained to handle most issues involving car accidents, and their reports satisfy Illinois accident reporting requirements. Illinois law requires that every driver involved in an Illinois traffic accident file a crash report no later than 10 days after the date of the accident if that accident caused a death, bodily injury, or more than $1,500 of property damage. If a police officer appears at the scene of the accident, he or she may draft the required accident report. Insurance companies will also review these accident reports as evidence of liability and damages when assessing your claim.
Notably, the penalty for a failure to file a crash report is either a maximum fine of $2,500 or up to a year in jail. Keep in mind that if you’re involved in an accident and you leave the scene (as opposed to failing to file a report), then the law may consider you a hit-and-run driver―and the penalties become much more severe.
Acquire Information from the Other Driver
It is imperative to acquire the necessary information that you need from the other driver. It is also important to avoid engaging in a conversation regarding the cause of the accident and to never admit fault. You may be unaware of the actual reasons that caused the accident, and determining fault is the job of the police officers, insurance company, and in some cases, the courts.
Here is a list of the essential information that you need to acquire from the other driver(s):
- Driver’s name and contact information
- Vehicle information (make, model, color, year, and VIN) of the other cars involved in the accident
- Names of passengers (also a good idea to make note of where these passengers were seated at the time of the crash)
- Name of driver’s insurance company and policy number (If the person driving the vehicle is not the owner, attempt to get the owner’s information, as well.)
Also, do not forget to record the name and contact information of any potential witnesses. Most of this information should appear on the police report, but sometimes insurance and certain numbers do not, so be sure to get this information from all other drivers involved in the accident.
Take Photos of the Accident Scene
In today’s digital age, it seems that cameras are everywhere. Don’t forget this if you are involved in a car accident, as taking pictures is an important part of the process. Obviously, take photos of the damage to your vehicle as well as any injuries you suffered. Yet, be sure to take photos of the not-so-obvious things as well. For example:
- Photos of all vehicles involved in the accident (including damage to the other vehicles and their license plates)
- Photos of the accident scene (including skid marks, traffic control devices, views of any intersection, lane markers, weather conditions)
- Photos of any damage to surrounding property
Significant Illinois Laws about Auto Accidents
Always keep in mind the following Illinois laws that are important to consider when you or a loved one are involved in an automotive accident.
How Long Do I Have to File a Lawsuit after the Accident (Statute of Limitations)?
In Illinois, lawsuits for personal injury claims generally have a two-year statute of limitations. A “statute of limitations” dictates the maximum time after an event occurs that legal proceedings based on that event may be filed. For cases involving property damage claims, the statute of limitations is five years. Be mindful that when the defendant in personal injury and property damage claims is not a private person but is a local public entity or any of its employees, the statute of limitations is generally one year.
What If the Accident Is Partly My Fault (Comparative Negligence)?
Illinois is a “comparative negligence” state, which means that in accident cases if the plaintiff is found to be more than 50 percent at fault, the plaintiff is completely barred from any recovery. If the plaintiff is found to be 50 percent or less at fault, then any recovery is reduced by the amount of the plaintiff’s proportionate responsibility. For example, if a jury finds that a plaintiff has suffered $1 million in damages but was 25 percent at fault, the plaintiff’s award will be $750,000. Comparative negligence is one of many defenses that are available to the defendant.
Insurance Issues in an Automobile Accident
Motor vehicle insurance is mandatory in Illinois. Minimum insurance requirements are as follows:
- $20,000 for injury or death to one person in an accident;
- $40,000 for injury or death to more than one person in an accident; and
- $15,000 for damage to property of another.
Keep in mind some other helpful information regarding motor vehicle insurance when you or a loved one is involved in a car accident:
When a Car Damages Your Personal Property
Damages to personal property in your vehicle should be covered by the other driver’s policy. Please notice what the section below titled “Replacing Child Safety Seats after Accidents” mentions about damage to child safety seats.
Communicating with a Car Insurance Company after the Accident
Illinois law requires an insurance company to “communicate with you” within 21 working days after they are notified of the loss. If you intend to retain a lawyer to help with your injury claim, you should not sign any documents without first discussing them with your lawyer. For example, most insurance companies will seek authorization to obtain your medical records via a HIPAA authorization. Your lawyer will want to limit the scope of the records that the insurance company may obtain to those that are only relevant to the accident. In addition, many lawyers prefer to obtain the records on their own and then provide them to the insurance company.
What If My Car Was Already Damaged?
The insurance company may deduct any amount from the value of your vehicle if it has old, unrepaired body damage. The company may also deduct an additional amount up to $500.00 for “wear and tear,” missing parts, and rust.
Rental Vehicle Reimbursement by Driver’s Insurer
Illinois insurance regulations require an at-fault driver’s insurance company to reimburse you for the cost of a rental vehicle in proportion to the at-fault driver’s liability. The most the company must reimburse you for is the period of time it would normally take to repair your vehicle, or until the company makes you a settlement offer for your vehicle’s damage. If the company offers to pay a flat amount (for example, $20 per day), the company must tell you where you can rent a vehicle for that amount.
Receiving Medical Payment Coverage Regardless of Fault
Medical payments coverage, also known as “med pay,” pays up to a certain amount for your medical bills and those of your passengers. Med pay coverage covers these medical bills regardless of whose fault the accident was. Often, people are unaware that they actually have med pay benefits under their policy, but it is important to find out if you do. As previously discussed, Illinois is a comparative negligence state, and the amount covered for your medical bills by the other driver’s insurance may be reduced if you are at fault.
Replacing Child Safety Seats after Accidents
Illinois law requires that insurance for private passenger automobiles must include coverage for the replacement of child safety seats if those seats were in use at the time of the accident.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) recommends the following when a child safety seat has been involved in an accident:
- Child safety seats should be replaced following a moderate or severe crash in order to ensure a continued high level of crash protection for child passengers.
- Child safety seats do not necessarily need to be replaced following a minor crash. Minor crashes are those that meet ALL of the following criteria: (1) The vehicle was able to be driven away from the crash site, (2) The vehicle door nearest the safety seat was undamaged, (3) There were no injuries to any of the vehicle occupants, (4) The airbags (if present) did not deploy, and (5) There is no visible damage to the safety seat.
If you are uncertain as to whether your car seat needs to be replaced, take it to an authorized inspection station for a free inspection. Find the closest location to you at nhtsa.gov.
Special and Non-Economic Damages after a Car Crash
Typically, motor vehicle claims seek recovery for “Special Damages.” Special damages include medical expenses and loss of present and future income from work. “Non-economic damages” may also be pursued. Non-economic damages include—but are not limited to—pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life activity (which may include a loss of intimate time with a spouse or close family member).
Zukowski, Rogers, Flood & McArdle are personal injury attorneys who serve most of northern Illinois from Chicago to DeKalb and Rockford. The firm’s primary offices are located in Crystal Lake, Illinois. For a free consultation, contact Jonathan M. Feinstein or David J. Loughnane at (815) 459-2050.