Mary is sitting at an intersection in Peoria, waiting for the oncoming traffic to clear so that she can make a left turn. Her left turn signal is on, and her car is stationary. A car comes up behind her, and rear ends her pretty hard. Mary is not wearing a seat belt and feels immediate neck and back pain as soon as the collision occurs.
The police arrive, call an ambulance for Mary, and give a ticket to the guy that hit her. At the hospital, Mary is given pain medication and told to see her family doctor. The doctor tells Mary to rest for a couple of weeks and stay out of work.
After three weeks, Mary is no better, with serious pain in her neck and upper back. Mary sees an orthopedist, who orders an MRI, which shows a herniated (ruptured) disc in the cervical (neck) region. The orthopedist offers to perform a discectomy, which is the removal of the herniated part of the disc, and Mary agrees. The surgery is done, and, after six months of physical therapy, Mary is feeling about 80% better. Mary is a teacher, and missed six months of work overall.
The first thing that Mary should do is report the incident to her car insurance company.
Since the police came to the scene, Mary probably does not need to report the accident to the proper authorities herself. Get the details on your legal obligations in this situation: Do I Need to Report a Car Accident in Illinois?
Mary needs to be aware of Illinois’s statute of limitations, which is a law that sets a deadline for filing a lawsuit after an injury or any other type of harm.
In Illinois, the statute of limitations for car accidents is two years. This means, if you were involved in a car accident as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, you have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit in the state’s courts. If you are only filing a lawsuit over vehicle damage, the statute of limitations is five years.
If you have not settled the case, and you don’t file a lawsuit within the time period set by the statute of limitations, you've probably lost your right to file it at all. Don’t wait until the last minute. If you can’t settle your case well before the statute of limitations expires, it may be time to contact an Illinois car accident lawyer.
You want to make sure that the adjuster has all of the medical and financial documentation that supports your claim for damages. You also want to make sure that the adjuster has all of the information necessary to evaluate who was at fault in the accident. While a case like Mary’s is usually going to be defendant’s fault, she needs to be aware of the rules of comparative negligence because the person that hit her could still claim that Mary was negligent in some manner.
Illinois has what is called a “modified comparative fault” rule. Under this rule, if you are found to be in part negligent with respect to your injury, your award of damages is diminished in proportion to your fault, up to a certain point. If, for example, you were awarded $400,000 in damages, but were found 30% at fault, your damages would be reduced to $280,000. However, if you were found to be more than 50% at fault, you would receive no damages whatsoever from other parties.
In order to maximize your potential recovery, you want to make absolutely sure that the defendant’s adjuster knows that you did nothing wrong. Learn more about Car Accident Laws in Illinois.
It's important to note that the other driver may carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance required under Illinois’s car insurance laws. In Illinois, a driver is only required to carry bodily injury liability coverage in the amount of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident, and property damage liability coverage in the amount of $15,000 per accident. If your medical bills and other damages exceed those minimums, but the other driver carries no additional coverage, then an insurance settlement may not cover your losses. In that situation, you may want to talk to an attorney about your other options.
In Mary’s case, her out-of-pocket (compensatory) damages total $85,000. The breakdown looks like this:
Mary and her attorney decide that another $150,000 in damages is appropriate to compensate for Mary’s pain and suffering in connection with the accident, and they make an initial demand of $300,000 to settle the claim.
Unfortunately, the defendant only has $100,000 in liability coverage. The defendant’s insurer offers the policy limits, and Mary accepts. Mary then files an underinsured motorist claim with her own insurer based on her underinsured motorist insurance policy. After negotiations, Mary accepts $100,000 from her insurer, for a total settlement of $200,000.
The possibility of an underinsured or uninsured motorist claim against your own insurer is another reason to report the accident immediately to your own insurer. If you delay, the insurer may refuse to recognize any claim under that coverage.
Learn more about Settling a Car Accident Case.