“Do I need a lawyer after a car accident?”
No motorist expects to be involved in a car accident, and few have a deep understanding of the process they will need to go through in the event of a crash. When a collision happens, victims may be confused and vulnerable to tactics used by insurance companies to protect their bottom line.
The National Safety Council estimates that the economic cost of an injury sustained in a car accident is between $20,000 and $90,000 depending on severity, and that’s just the average – many claims could be worth many times those figures. Between medical expenses, lost wages and many other costs, a victim’s future can be seriously affected, financially and physically.
People injured in car crashes in Illinois need to understand their legal rights and options, including retaining an attorney to help with their claim. An experienced car accident lawyer can put the injured person in a strong position to obtain a full and fair compensation, rather than being at the mercy of the insurance company.
What to do immediately after an accident
While a crash itself may be over in seconds, the consequences of an accident can last a lifetime. That’s why it’s important for motorists involved in crashes to take action right away to address such consequences. Some steps that can affect the outcome of a claim include:
- Taking pictures of the scene and any visible injuries
- Getting names and contact information for witnesses
- Calling emergency services and getting a copy of the police report
- Seeking medical attention right away – even if your injuries appear minor
Auto insurance companies require customers to notify them of an accident within a reasonable timeframe; otherwise, your claim may be denied. However, because the insurance company’s profit motive is to pay out as little as possible, it’s best to keep those comments to a minimum and avoid saying anything that could be used to reduce or deny the claim.
How accident compensation works in Illinois
Like most states, Illinois is considered a “fault” state for car accidents. What that means is that the person responsible for a crash – or, more likely, his or her insurance carrier – is responsible for compensating people hurt in the accident. That means that after an accident in Chicago or anywhere else in Illinois, proving fault is often critical to obtaining compensation after a crash.
Most collisions are caused by human error. Some of the most common causes of car crashes include:
- Driving at unsafe speeds
- Aggressive driving maneuvers such as tailgating
- Distracted driving such as texting while driving
- Driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol
- Driver fatigue or falling asleep at the wheel
In some cases, a person or company other than a motorist may be liable for an accident. For example, some crashes are caused by mechanical issues with a vehicle (such as faulty brakes or steering), or by safety issues with the roadway itself (such as potholes or inadequate lighting).
It is not uncommon for multiple parties to be partially responsible for a single crash. In those cases, Illinois uses a system of comparative negligence, which means each party pays compensation in proportion to his or her percentage of fault. More precisely, Illinois uses modified comparative negligence with a 50 percent bar to recovery. That means someone who is at least 50 percent at fault for a crash cannot recover compensation.
Types of damages that can be recovered
“Damages” is a legal term used to refer to financial compensation awarded to an injured person. Most damages are considered compensatory damages, meaning that they are meant to reimburse the injured person for his or her losses as a result of the injury. Compensatory damages are further divided into economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are compensation for demonstrable financial losses that are tied to a specific, objectively verifiable dollar amount, such as:
- Medical expenses, including hospital bills, medications, medical devices, in-home care, and even travel costs to go to and from appointments;
- Lost wages, if the injured person is unable to work or needs to work reduced hours due to the injury;
- Property damage to a vehicle or other personal property;
- Modifications to the injured person’s home or vehicle to accommodate a disability;
- Replacement services, such as childcare, housekeeping or yard work.
Non-economic damages are compensation for losses that are real and demonstrable, but not easily calculated or tied to a specific dollar figure. Examples of non-economic damages include:
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of quality of life
In some cases, a jury may also award punitive damages, which are intended to punish the at-fault party for particularly egregious or intentional conduct in order to deter similar conduct in the future. Car crashes caused by drunk drivers, for example, sometimes lead to an award of punitive damages.
How an attorney’s help can affect a car accident claim
People injured in car crashes seek out legal help for many reasons. According to a 1999 report published by the Insurance Research Council, some of the key services provided by injury lawyers to car crash victims include:
- Filing claims or lawsuits on the injured person’s behalf;
- Negotiating with the at-fault driver and his or her insurance company;
- Recommending medical treatment with doctors, chiropractors and other providers.
In some cases, people injured in crashes hire lawyers because the at-fault driver does not have insurance. In others, the victim is dissatisfied with the insurance company’s settlement offer, or needs to push forward after a claim is denied. In still others, the insurance company appears to be dragging out the claims process, which could give rise to a claim for insurance bad faith.
According to the same report, those victims who had an attorney on their side received settlements that were, on average, 40% higher than those who did not. Experienced car accident lawyers can make a significant difference for many reasons, including:
- Thoroughly investigating crash scenes to help resolve disputes over fault for the collision;
- Building a case for the full, long-term cost of a serious injury, including medical treatment that may be needed years later;
- Finding and pursuing sources of compensation that may not be immediately apparent, such as crashworthiness claims against the vehicle manufacturer;
- Using the possibility of a trial as leverage in negotiations with the insurance company;
- Taking the case to trial, if needed, and presenting a case for full compensation to a jury.
Meanwhile, victims who choose not to hire an attorney enter the claims process at a significant disadvantage. They are often up against the insurance companies’ teams of attorneys and adjusters who have extensive experience handling these types of claims.
And while the insurance company is ostensibly there to pay out full and fair compensation (up to the applicable policy limit) to the injured party, actually paying out that compensation runs counter to the insurance company’s profit motive. Instead, most insurance companies only care about one thing – paying injury victims as little money as possible.
For more information
Contact Coplan + Crane, an Illinois law firm with extensive experience serving people injured in car crashes in the Chicago area and throughout Illinois. Our law firm is conveniently located in Oak Park. Contact us for a free case evaluation.