Being involved in an auto accident can be a life-altering experience for you and your loved ones. You should have a basic understanding of your legal rights under Illinois negligence laws in the event that you decide to sue the party at fault. If you decide to assert a legal claim, you will know the maximum compensation you are eligible to receive. You will also be aware of the amount of time you have to assert your legal claim in court. Any auto accident case typically involves laws governing:
- The statute of limitations
- Auto insurance legal requirements
- Principles of negligence law
- Divisibility of damages under comparative fault principles
- Admissibility of evidence
- Federal and state rules of civil procedure
- Local court rules
- Government immunity in tort claims
Auto accident laws vary amongst states and depending on the law produced through case precedent, government agencies and the legislature. Here are some of the most relevant Illinois auto laws that you should know as you resolve your auto accident case with help from an attorney.
Illinois Insurance Laws: 625 ILCS 5/7-601
In Illinois, all motor vehicle owners must carry a minimum amount of auto liability insurance. For a single death or injury resulting from a car accident, one must have a minimum of $20,000 in vehicle liability insurance. For two deaths or injuries resulting from a car accident, one must have a minimum of $40,000 in vehicle liability insurance. Car owners are also required to carry at least $15,000 in vehicle and property damage insurance. Car owners are required to carry their insurance card at all times and show it to a law enforcement officer upon request. All car insurance policies must include uninsured motorist coverage that equates to the injury liability coverage in the policy.
“Fault-Based” Illinois Car Insurance Laws
Illinois uses a fault-based system to determine payment of damages after an auto accident. The person who is at-fault in causing an accident has the legal responsibility of paying for the damages of the injured person. The insurance company of the at-fault driver will usually cover the damages of the injured person. If the at-fault driver does not carry insurance, then an injured person may file a claim with his or her own insurance company. In the event that neither driver has insurance, the injured victim may assert a negligence claim against the at-fault party in court.
Illinois Statute of Limitations: 735 ILCS 5/13-202, 205; 745 ILCS 10/8-101
Injured victims in auto accidents only have a limited amount of time to file a legal claim. The deadlines for filing a legal claim are:
- Personal injury (5/13-202): 2 years from the date of the accident.
- Property damage (5/13-205): 5 years from the date of the accident.
- Personal injury/property damage claims involving a local government entity or its employees: 1 year from the date of the accident.
Negligence Laws in Illinois
Injured victims may pursue a personal injury or property damage claim against an at-fault driver. A plaintiff has the burden of proving that the defendant was negligent. In Illinois, negligence laws hinge on the court’s interpretation in established case precedent and regulations within the Illinois Motor Vehicle Code. In essence, a plaintiff must prove:
- Duty: That the defendant owed a legal duty to the plaintiff.
- Breach: That the defendant failed to comply with the applicable standard of care. A defendant usually must act as a “reasonable person” under the same or similar circumstances. Ordinarily, breach is an element for the jury to determine. Yager v. Illinois Bell Telephone Co., 281 Ill. App. 3d 903, 908 (4th Dist. 1996).
- Cause: That the breach of duty served as a direct or legal cause of the victim’s injuries. This is normally a question for the jury to determine, and a jury may need to analyze whether it was “foreseeable” that injuries would result from the defendant’s conduct. A causation link may be broken by an unforeseeable superseding cause, such as severe weather conditions.
- Damages: That the plaintiff suffered from a measurable form of injuries.
Auto Accidents Involving Multiple Negligent Parties
Illinois negligence laws provide that injured victims may recover compensation from multiple parties involved in an auto accident. In Gertz v. Campbell, 55 Ill. 2d 84 (Ill. 1973), the court held that a plaintiff could sue a negligent physician who failed to provide adequate care for her injuries after an auto accident. Each defendant will be liable to the extent in which his or her conduct resulted in injuries to the plaintiff.
Modified Comparative Fault in Illinois: 735 ILCS 5/2-1116
Illinois is a modified comparative fault jurisdiction. This means that a plaintiff may only receive damages if he or she was less than 50 percent at-fault in an auto accident. In addition, a plaintiff’s award may be reduced by the percentage of liability that is attributable to the plaintiff.
Fact-Gathering and Evidence Principles in Illinois
Immediately after an accident, a plaintiff should try to engage in fact-gathering if possible. Gathering information is vital for proving that an accident occurred. Facts like a driver’s license plate number, photos of property damage, photos of injuries, official medical documentation of injuries and an accident report may be vital for proving one’s case in court. Certain statements, documents, text and photos may only be admissible in accordance with provisions of the Illinois Rules of Evidence. Injured victims frequently want to offer a police accident report into evidence during their auto accident cases. The problem is that a police accident report may be considered hearsay under the IRE. Hearsay is defined as an out-of-court statement that may not be substantiated through cross-examination in court. This frequently occurs if a police officer is not present at the trial and cannot confirm the accuracy of statements in the police report. If the report is hearsay, then it likely will not be admissible in one’s auto accident case. Other rules of evidence may be relevant, such as whether the accident report is considered a past recollection recorded or is admissible under the Dead-Man’s Act. Under Rule 803 of the IRS, a specific exclusion has been carved out for police reports. The Illinois Supreme Court has stated in Rule 236 that police investigative records are not admissible, even under the hearsay exclusion granted for business and public records.
Laws Governing Damages in Illinois
Some states maintain laws that cap the amount of damages a person may receive after being injured in an auto accident. Illinois does not currently have a statute that caps the total damages a plaintiff may receive after being injured in a car accident. To maximize an award, a plaintiff may want to directly sue a defendant for damages that exceed the amount provided by an insurance policy. In addition, an insurance company may settle a case for a greater award than is provided in an insurance policy.
Learn More About Illinois Personal Injury Laws
If you are interested in learning more about Illinois personal injury laws, you may want to consult Chapter 605 of the Illinois Code and 745 ILCS 10. Chapter 605 deals with rules governing highways, and 745 ILCS 10 puts forth rules in regards to governmental immunity in personal injury cases.