While dealing with the insurance companies after an auto accident is never easy, it can be especially complicated after a multi-car accident. In Illinois, the laws governing liability in these cases are somewhat unique, and determining whose insurance company has to pay requires a thorough examination of the causal factors involved.
As a baseline, however, if you were injured in a multi-car accident that was not your fault, you are entitled to recover 100 percent of your accident-related losses. The challenges come in when determining which insurance company or companies you need to pursue.
Determining who pays for a multi-vehicle car accident in Illinois requires an understanding of the law of “joint and several liability.” This law applies specifically when multiple parties share responsibility for an accident like a multi-vehicle crash.
When “joint” liability applies, each at-fault party is fully responsible for the victim’s losses. This means that the victim can seek to collect full compensation from any one at-fault party’s insurance company; or, if necessary, the victim can pursue partial compensation from each at-fault party’s insurer.
Let’s consider a common multi-car accident scenario: You are driving on the highway when you get rear-ended. When you exit your car, you see that the car that hit you also got rear-ended by another vehicle.
In this situation, it is entirely possible that both of the other drivers could be responsible for your losses. Now, let’s say each driver only has the minimum bodily injury liability (BIL) insurance required under Illinois law, which is $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. Let’s also say that your losses total $50,000. Since neither driver’s auto insurance policy is adequate, joint liability allows you to file a claim under both policies to fully recover your losses.
When “several” liability applies, each at-fault party is only financially responsible up to his or her percentage of fault. So, in our example above, let’s say that one of the other drivers is found to have only been 25 percent at fault in the accident. If several liability applies, this driver would only be liable for 25 percent of your losses ($12,500 in our example). You could potentially seek to recover the additional 75 percent of your losses from the other driver; but, practically speaking, you may be limited to the maximum coverage available under this driver’s policy (an additional $25,000 in our example).
Many states have what is known as “pure” joint and several liability. In these states, accident victims have the maximum amount of options for recovering their losses. However, Illinois is a “modified” joint and several liability state. Under Illinois law:
In other words, “pure” joint and several liability applies as long as each at-fault driver is at least 25 percent at fault. But, if any at-fault driver is found to be less than 25 percent at fault, then that driver is jointly and severally liable for the victim’s current and future medical expenses, but only severally liable for his or her percentage of the victim’s other accident-related losses.
In some cases, multi-car accident victims who suffer serious injuries will find that the at-fault drivers’ insurance policies do not fully cover their accident-related losses. This could be due to low policy limits, Illinois’s “modified” joint and several liability law, or a combination of both.
If you find yourself in this scenario, what are your options? Here too, the answer depends on the facts at hand. If you have uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage, now is the time to use it. Alternatively, if your lawyer can show that a vehicle defect or road defect played a role in your multi-car accident or that one of the other drivers was working at the time of the crash, then your lawyer may be able to pursue a third-party claim for additional financial compensation.
If you need to know more about your legal rights after a multi-car accident in Illinois, we encourage you to contact us promptly for a FREE consultation with an experienced Chicago car accident lawyer at Coplan + Crane.
To speak with an experienced car accident lawyer at Coplan + Crane in confidence, call (708) 358-8080 or tell us how we can contact you online now.