To prepare for a car accident lawsuit in Illinois, document everything related to the case and continue to follow your medical treatment recommendations. Meet with lawyers as soon as possible, since you are operating under a two-year statute of limitations for personal injuries. Refrain from discussing the accident with people in case you say something inaccurate or that hurts your lawsuit.
Tips to Prepare for a Car Accident Lawsuit
If you think you may have a case for a car accident lawsuit, one of the first steps is to find a lawyer committed to helping Illinois injury victims. It is never too early to prepare for a car accident lawsuit.
Many personal injury lawyers offer free consultations, so speak with several about your case. Ask questions about their experience with car accident injury victims and what approach they would take with your case.
Most injury lawyers also work on a contingency basis. Contingency means if attorneys accept your case, you do not pay their fees upfront. They get paid a percentage of your settlement amount or trial verdict amount when you win your case. If you lose your case, your attorney does not take payment.
The statute of limitations as you prepare for a car accident lawsuit is a critical thing to remember. Illinois gives you two years from the date of a car accident to file personal injury lawsuits. Two years means you should not hesitate to meet with lawyers. They need time to review your case and prepare filings.
If you were hurt by a government employee, you are operating under even stricter limits. You have one year to either file the lawsuit or file a notice of claim with the attorney general and the Clerk of the Court of Claims. If you take the latter approach, you have two years to file from the date the crash occurred.
Collect everything related to your case before you meet with lawyers. For example, get copies of the police report, medical reports, and witness statements. Doing this maximizes your free consultation time and helps ensure attorneys have as much information as possible to work with.
Another essential component is to continue doing everything in your medical treatment regimen. Attend appointments, and do the exercises you are supposed to do at home. Take your medications as instructed. Visit any specialists you have been referred to see. Otherwise, the defense might argue successfully that you intentionally made your injuries worse.
If you have not yet already, write a narrative about the car accident and begin to document everything. That includes when you sought medical care, your injuries and their effect on your life, and your contacts with the insurance company. Note who you spoke to, where, when, how, and about what.
Common injuries that people suffer in car accidents include whiplash, burns, scarring, broken bones, spinal trauma, head injuries, traumatic brain injuries, and death. In Illinois, you can collect economic and non-economic damages for the effects of these injuries. Examples of economic damages include lost income, past, present, and future medical expenses, out-of-pocket expenses, and property damage. Examples of non-economic damages include emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.
Punitive damages may be available if the defendant’s behavior was particularly negligent, outrageous, or intentional. Punitive damages are meant to discourage similar behaviors in the future by the driver and other drivers.
As you document the effects of the car crash and the mental, emotional, and physical implications it has had for you, keep the above types of compensation in mind. For example, if you had to pay for childcare while you recovered, you could get compensated for that. Document who you paid to care for your children, when, and how much. Similarly, keep track of all expenses related to transportation to your medical appointments: gas, insurance, public transit fares, taxicab expenses, and more. It is better to have too much documentation than too little.
You should speak to a lawyer after a car accident, even if you believe you bear a good portion of the blame for the accident. For one thing, you do not have all the facts. You do not know if the other driver was texting, drunk, sleep-deprived, underage, or driving with a suspended license, for example.
Illinois uses the modified comparative fault theory. You are able to collect damages as long as you are not more than 51% at fault for the accident. In other words, you could bear, say, 20% fault, and still get compensation. Your compensation amount would be reduced by 20%, though.
What to Do Immediately After the Accident
The number of car accidents spiked in 2020 and is a common issue in busy areas such as Chicago. Right after a Chicago auto crash, determine whether you or others might need medical treatment. That is your priority. Everything else, even collecting potential evidence for a lawsuit, should be lower on the list.
If you feel you are not hurt or that your injuries are minor, go to a doctor as soon as possible anyway. A seemingly minor injury can become life-threatening. Other potentially deadly issues, such as internal bleeding, may not be obvious right away. Medical treatment aside, critical steps to follow after an accident include:
- Refrain from taking the blame: Avoid blaming anyone, whether it is yourself or someone else. It could create issues down the road, and you do not know the other driver’s situation. He or she could be intoxicated, for example.
- Contact the police: This gets a paper trail started. You need a police report if you do file a lawsuit down the road.
- Exchange details with the other driver: Illinois requires drivers in an accident to exchange their names, current addresses, registration numbers, and, if requested, their driver’s licenses.
- Get witness contact information: Try getting the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of witnesses. They can be hard to track down after a crash, so if you can get the phone number of a family member or close friend of the witness, that helps. Ask if the witnesses are willing to give statements in writing or on a phone recording. If they are not willing, accept their answer and do not pressure them.
- Snap pictures and search for other evidence: Take photos of the accident scene (including any skid marks), your vehicle, and any bodily injuries you may have. Write down your recollection of what happened while it is still fresh.
- Let your insurance company know: File a claim with your insurance provider if the accident was your fault. If it was the other driver’s fault, file the claim with his or her insurer or with your own. Do not delay filing the claim, as the policy likely requires you to report an accident in a certain timeframe. The insurer could reject your claim if you wait too long.
Another step is to speak with an attorney before accepting any insurance offer. This step is not mandatory but helps safeguard your best interests. It ensures you know whether an offer is fair or not.
Throughout the entire process, document everything, including driver information, your medical expenses, and the progression of your injuries. Illinois no longer requires drivers to complete the Illinois Motorist Report, however, employees involved in a crash in a state vehicle must still file the report.
Preparing for Trial in a Car Accident Lawsuit
Follow your lawyer’s advice about how to prepare for a car accident lawsuit trial, no matter when the accident occurred and what caused it.
For example, your lawyer probably cautioned you to not speak directly with the insurance company. All such communications should instead go through your lawyer. Continue to follow that advice, even if the insurance company manages to reach you with a seemingly high settlement offer.
Another thing to do is to keep quiet about assigning blame. Avoid discussing the case in general. Social media posts and seemingly casual conversations with friends and co-workers haunt many people later. You can say something off-the-cuff that hurts your case. Even a sarcastic joke such as, “I’m feeling great today. No more back pain! I’m going jet-skiing in Hawaii next month,” can come across very differently in a courtroom.
Keep documenting your injuries, health, and contacts with people involved in the case as you prepare for trial. Your lawyer is working to prove that the other driver in your case was negligent. Illinois requires three factors for a successful negligence claim: the driver owed you the duty to drive with reasonable care, breached the duty, and the breach led to the accident that caused your damages. Your lawyer has a fair bit of research to do to prove direct relationships and to illustrate the scope of your injury and the many effects it has had on your life, work, family, and relationships.