After a Car Accident

by Howard Ankin
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Howard Ankin

The steps taken in the minutes, days, and weeks following a crash can have a significant impact on the success of an accident claim. Myths and misinformation about car insurance companies, tort laws, and other auto accident issues can make it difficult for a person to know what to do after a car accident. More than 2 million people are injured in car crashes each year with the average claim for injuries rising to more than $23,000.

Auto accidents – whether minor or severe – can leave innocent victims injured, emotionally shaken, and confused. Many crashes are so severe that victims are left with permanent scarring, disabilities, and emotional disturbances. In some cases, people lose their lives. Like other victims of negligence, an injured person may be entitled to money damages for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and more.

Unfortunately, car accident victims often make mistakes that can hinder or even eliminate any legal claims that they might have. Experienced Chicago car accident lawyers can help guide accident victims through every step of the medical, legal, and financial recovery process after a crash.

Taking the Correct Steps After a Car Accident

After a motor vehicle accident, it is vital for victims to:

  • Check for injuries and seek medical attention. Victims or passersby should call an ambulance if necessary. Even when people do not have any noticeable signs of injuries, they may wish to seek medical attention after a crash because the symptoms of some injuries, like whiplash, brain trauma and back injuries, can take days or even weeks to develop. Once evaluated, victims should follow through with the doctor’s treatment recommendations, making sure to retain all copies of medical bills and records.
  • Notify the police.  While it is important to cooperate completely with the police, motorists should only communicate the facts of the auto accident and avoid making any conclusions, assumptions, or legal theories. People should also avoid admitting responsibility or making any other comments about who is at fault.
  • Obtain all necessary contact and insurance information. Victims should be sure to obtain contact information for all of the people who were involved in the crash and any witnesses that are present.
  • Gather and preserve evidence. Whenever possible, people should make notes about the accident to help provide a more accurate recollection of the events that occurred. Audio and video recordings, dashcam footage and photos of the accident scene are often very powerful evidence to help prove fault, the extent of damage and the severity of injuries. It’s also important for those who are injured to retain all important information regarding the auto accident including police reports, medical records, statements, insurance policies, and all receipts.
  • Inform the insurance company of the accident. It is important to promptly notify the insurance company of the accident, but motorists should not sign any insurance documents or make any statements until they have spoken to an auto accident attorney.
  • Consult with a knowledgeable Chicago auto accident attorney. Accident victims should never sign any legal documents or give any recorded statements until they have consulted with an attorney.  Experienced attorneys can advise motorists of their rights, perform a factual investigation into the auto accident to determine potential sources of liability and obtain the necessary evidence, communicate with insurance companies, and advocate on the victim’s behalf to ensure injured clients receive appropriate settlements or verdicts.

Determining Liability After a Car Accident in Illinois

When car accidents happen, determining liability can be tricky. Even when only a single vehicle is involved or fault seems clear, a thorough investigation of the circumstances and evidence can reveal liable parties that might not be obvious right away. When crashes involve two or more parties, negligence can spread out in numerous ways. A Chicago car accident attorney can help victims clear-up liability issues to ensure that those who are injured receive fair and appropriate financial compensation.

When motorists are in an auto accident, the amount of recovery may depend on the applicable insurance laws. Illinois insurance coverage uses modified comparative negligence tort principles to determine liability and compensation in accident cases. A person who is injured in an auto accident is generally entitled to financial recovery up to the percentage of fault attributed to the negligent driver.

For example, if a negligent driver was 90 percent at fault for the accident, the injured victim is entitled to seek compensation from the negligent driver’s insurance company for an amount equal to 90 percent of the total monetary damages, including medical bills and lost wages.

Divvying Up the Blame

For car accidents involving multiple parties, the court must use the legal concept of “joint and several liability,” also called “all sums,” to figure out fault allocation. In cases where the plaintiff is partially at fault, it’s possible to lose out on damages altogether. For example, consider if there’s an accident involving:

  • the city’s negligence,
  • another driver’s negligence,
  • and the plaintiff’s own negligence.

If the plaintiff holds 50% of the liability in that accident, then it doesn’t matter how much or how little the others contributed. Since he or she is half at fault, he or she cannot collect damages. If the plaintiff is just 49% at fault, however, liability for damages is then split between the remaining parties accordingly.  

Joint and Several Liability

Once the court tallies the fault percentages, liability is evaluated as follows:

Joint liability – When multiple parties jointly have liability. In this case, everybody involved will owe something that jointly constitutes the full obligation.

Several liability – Sometimes called proportionate liability. Severally liable parties are only liable for their allocated amount of fault.

In Chicago, these statutes have undergone a few reforms. A knowledgeable car accident lawyer can help victims understand the current liability laws in Illinois.

Recovering Compensation After a Car Accident

A severe auto accident can be life-changing. Victims often suffer from physical injuries and emotional distress that can leave them unable to work, participate in daily activities, or even care for themselves. Bills for medical treatment, special equipment, skilled care, and rehabilitative services can quickly escalate and with no income, replacing damaged property and providing for necessities can become nearly impossible. Fortunately, when victims are injured due to the negligence of someone else, they may be able to recover financial compensation to help them make ends meet.

Determining Damages After a Crash

Some compensation amounts, such as medical bills and lost wages, may be easier to calculate than others. However, it can be difficult to prove and assign a monetary value to subjective damages like emotional distress or pain and suffering. Emotional distress includes emotional problems, such as depression, panic, nervousness, and anxiety. Pain and suffering refer to the physical pain suffered as a direct result of the injuries sustained in the auto accident. Because emotional distress and pain and suffering can be difficult to assess, these amounts are often a source of much debate when negotiating an auto accident settlement.

A skilled accident lawyer can help victims determine appropriate amounts for fair and adequate compensation for the damages they have suffered. Once a settlement amount has been determined, a lawyer can negotiate with insurance companies and pursue injury cases in court if necessary.

Dealing with Insurance Companies After an Accident

Insurance companies are notorious for doing everything they can to avoid paying fair settlements for injuries and losses- even when damages are significant. And since even minor crashes can result in extensive costs, victims of all types of car crashes rarely achieve successful outcomes right away.

There are several things victims should know about dealing with insurance companies after a car accident.

  1. Victims should consult with an Illinois auto accident lawyer before communicating with an insurance company. Although a victim’s own insurance company may claim to have his or her best interests at heart, all insurance companies are in business to make a profit and, as such, they often apply a formulaic approach to auto accident claims without taking into account the specific circumstances of a claim. A knowledgeable Chicago car accident attorney can inform victims of their legal rights and communicate with the insurance companies to advocate for a full and fair financial recovery.
  2. Many insurance policies require that a policyholder cooperates with a claim investigation. Victims are obligated to inform the insurance company of the crash within a reasonable amount of time and to cooperate with their investigation. If the insurance company requests a recorded statement, victims should consult with an attorney prior to giving a statement or have an attorney present while the statement is given.
  3. Victims may also be contacted by the other driver’s insurance company. Victims are under no obligation to provide the other driver’s insurance company with a recorded statement and should decline to do so. Insurance adjusters often pressure people to provide information that will make it easier for them to minimize claims.
  4. In Illinois, as well as most other states, there are no laws or regulations that require specific body shops for repairs. A car owner is free to choose any body shop he/she prefers. However, some insurance companies may only pay for vehicle damages equal to the estimated amount prepared by one of their preferred body shops. If this occurs, an accident lawyer can provide legal advice on repair requirements based on the insurance policy. The insurance provider should not control options for repairs and costs unless preferred body shops are a specific requirement for payment within the policy.
  5. Claimants must accept an insurance company’s claim settlement or file a personal injury lawsuit within a specific amount of time. Victims should consult with a car accident lawyer before accepting any insurance settlement. In Illinois, claims involving bodily injuries must be settled, or a lawsuit must be filed, within 2 years of the date of the accident. Property damage claims must be settled, or a lawsuit filed, within 5 years of the date of the accident.

In Illinois, drivers are required to carry minimum levels of insurance to cover liability for damages to people and physical property that may be involved in an accident. By law, drivers must maintain $25,000 of coverage for bodily injury or death if one person is involved in the accident, $50,000 for 2 people, and $25,000 for any damage to property. These minimums are often not enough to cover the expenses incurred during an accident. They’re certainly not enough to cover the loss of companionship or the lost income and associated expenses surviving spouses and families can incur as the result of any serious or fatal injury.

Fortunately, families don’t have to accept these meager amounts offered by the terms of the insurance policy. Since these amounts are often egregiously inadequate, many victims and their families choose to pursue additional injury and wrongful death claims against the negligent party directly or against multiple parties when applicable.

Legal Options After a Motor Vehicle Accident

While some people choose to pursue injury claims on their own, fast-talking insurance representatives and legal complications often hinder their progress. Car accident lawyers who are experienced with recovering damages can help victims understand their legal options to improve their chances of success in a personal injury claim.

In some cases, an experienced attorney will be able to obtain a fair and appropriate settlement by presenting the facts of the case to the insurance company and using his or her negotiating skills. Many times, however, an injury claim must be pursued in court. There are several reasons that victims may wish to pursue legal action after an auto accident.

  1. Victims may get additional compensation in a personal injury lawsuit. Insurance companies are limited by the amount of coverage that the insurance policy provides. For instance, if a driver maintains $50,000 of liability insurance coverage, this is the most that the insurance company could offer someone who is injured in an accident. By pursuing legal action, victims are not necessarily limited to the limits of the insurance policy and may be able to recover additional sums from the negligent driver or other responsible parties, especially if he or she has significant assets.
  2. Insurance companies may not have the victim’s best interest in mind. Insurance companies are in the business of making money and, as such, they often provide a formulaic approach to insurance settlements and offer less than a claim may be worth. A personal injury lawyer can help victims determine what their claim is worth and whether it makes sense to pursue legal action.
  3. Victims may be able to collect compensation for future medical bills. In many cases, a person injured in an auto accident will incur medical and rehabilitation services that may continue for several months or even years. Accordingly, medical treatment may not be complete at the time the insurance company offers a settlement. A personal injury lawsuit allows a successful plaintiff to recover for all medical bills – including any future medical bills – as well as lost wages, pain, and suffering, and emotional distress.
  4. Injured victims may have multiple causes of action against numerous parties. Many auto accidents, such as multi-vehicle accidents, involve more than one negligent party. In some cases, an auto manufacturer may also be liable for an auto defect that caused or exacerbated the accident. In situations such as these, insurance companies often point fingers at each other in an attempt to reduce or eliminate the amount of the claim. By pursuing a personal injury lawsuit, complex issues of liability can be sorted out by the court.
  5. A lawsuit can resolve related legal issues. In some auto accidents, the victim may be partially responsible for the accident. A personal injury lawsuit can resolve issues of comparative negligence so that the victim can still obtain financial compensation.

There are a number of things to consider when deciding whether to file an auto accident claim such as insurance coverage available, legal issues involved, and how quickly the claim needs to be resolved. By taking the correct steps after a crash and consulting with an experienced car accident lawyer, victims can help ensure that they recover full financial compensation.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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