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Commonly Asked Questions about Car Accidents in Chicago

This is general information based upon Illinois law. Because every case is unique, you should always consult an experienced and knowledgeable Illinois auto accident attorney for legal advice on these issues. For more than 25 years, the attorneys at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., have helped Illinois car crash victims and their families.

Car Accident FAQs

I was injured in a car accident. I have insurance, and I have the other driver’s insurance information. Why do I need a lawyer?

Do you know what the insurance company should pay you for your car accident? Do you know the elements of damage to claim under the law? Do you know what your case’s value is? Do you know what to do if the insurance company denies your claim?

An experienced car accident attorney from Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. will know how to stop an insurance company from taking advantage of you and seek maximum compensation for your injuries. We work with car accident victims, insurance policies and insurance adjusters every day.

Insurance companies are profit-minded businesses. They also work with car accident victims and insurance policies every day. They do not have your best interests in mind. They have an incentive to pay you as little as possible. If you are on your own and lack familiarity with the legal process, you are simply outmatched.

But when you retain a personal injury attorney, insurance companies must work through your attorney to resolve your case. Your attorney will work to investigate the accident, including photos, witness statements, traffic court, records and bill requests. Your attorney will also determine what damages you should be paid for the cost of your medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, scarring and more.

At Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., we can provide a free, no-obligation consultation about your case. Then you can make decisions based on our experience instead of taking what a profit-minded insurance adjuster hands you. Simply contact us today to get started.

My bills are piling up, and I have been unable to work because of my injuries. What is my car accident case worth?

The compensation you receive in a car accident lawsuit – whether through a verdict or settlement – should make you “whole.” In other words, it should come as close as possible to returning you to the position you were in before being injured by another person’s negligent driving. This amount will differ from case to case.

To determine the amount of damages that should be recovered in your case, your lawyer will examine many factors, including:

You may also be eligible to recover punitive damages. Unlike the above damages, these damages are not aimed at making you whole but rather at punishing the party who harmed you in an auto accident and deterring future misconduct. These damages typically are awarded where the at-fault party engaged in reckless or intentional misconduct such as drunk driving or road rage.

If you have lost a loved one in a crash, you would seek wrongful death damages, which consists of “just and fair compensation” for your own losses, including the loss of money, goods and services provided by your loved one.

It is important to note that any recovery would be limited to the amount of available insurance coverage, including the at-fault party’s liability coverage and your own insurance such as uninsured / underinsured motorist (UM / UIM) coverage.

How do I pay for a lawyer?

At Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., our attorney fees are paid from the settlement or court award we obtain for you. We only receive this payment at the end of the case, and only if we are successful. Simply put: We don’t get paid until you do.

The payment does not come out of your own pocket. Instead, it is deducted from the check the insurance company writes if and when we obtain a recovery for you. If we do not obtain a recovery for you, you pay us nothing for our services.

The American Bar Association describes this as a “contingency” or “contingent” fee. The legal fee is contingent, or depends, on the result the law firm obtains for you and the amount of the recovery.

When we agree to pursue a claim for you, and you agree to have us represent you, we will enter into a contract that states that we will receive a percentage of any settlement or court award from the case plus repayment for costs.

You should note that Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. has a record of obtaining results for our clients in a wide range of personal injury and wrongful death cases, including 200 cases resulting in awards of $1 million or more.

We begin each case with a free and confidential consultation. This consultation allows us to answer questions you may have about your legal rights and options. It also allows us to review the facts of your case and help you to decide whether pursing a car accident claim is in your best interests. To receive a consultation, simply call or contact us online.

My car accident caused by another driver. Can I still collect money from my insurance company?

What your insurance company might pay you starts with what your policy entails.

If you have the minimum amount of auto insurance required by Illinois law (scroll down here), then you have coverage that is supposed to pay you for  a car accident caused by uninsured motorists.

Most of the auto insurance drivers are required to buy in Illinois is liability insurance. This coverage makes payments for injuries the policyholder causes others. So, typically, if you are in an accident caused by someone else, you seek a settlement through that driver’s liability insurance.

However, as the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates, more than 12 percent of drivers lack required insurance. Even if they have the requisite coverage, it may be at the minimum levels and fail to cover the full amount of your losses. In fact, this tends to happen in severe accidents.

If the driver lacks insurance or has inadequate insurance, you can turn to your uninsured / underinsured (UM/UIM) coverage. At a minimum, your uninsured (UM) policy should pay $20,000 per person and $40,000 per accident for bodily injury caused by an uninsured motorist. Of course, you may have purchased more than the minimum. Your coverage would depend on the amount you purchased. If you have higher underinsured limits than the at-fault driver, you may be able to collect the difference between the policies.

So, yes – if you have coverage that applies, you can probably collect some money from your insurance company after a crash caused by another driver.

The question is: How much will you recover? You would like to get the maximum amount that your coverage provides. However, your insurer would like to pay you less – perhaps much less.

Even when you have what looks like a simple, straightforward claim, you can usually benefit from having help from a car accident attorney from Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C.

If you already received a settlement offer from your insurer, do not sign or agree to anything before contacting one of our attorneys for a free review of the offer and a legal consultation about your case. Contact us today.

Can I sue a bar if I was injured by a drunk driver?

Under the Illinois Dram Shop Act, you can recover damages from a bar, restaurant, store or any other business licensed to sell alcoholic beverages in our state if the business is found to have contributed to the drunk driving accident that injured you.

To recover damages against a bar in a Dram Shop Act claim, you would need to prove five elements:

  • The driver who caused your accident was intoxicated at the time of the crash
  • The bar (or one of its employees) sold or gave alcohol that the driver consumed
  • The alcohol caused the driver to become intoxicated
  • The driver’s intoxication was at least one cause of the accident
  • As a result of the accident, you suffered injury or property damage.

If you can establish those elements, you can recover damages for bodily injury or the death of a loved one as well as for the loss of society or loss of means of support. Loss of society means the loss of one’s love, companionship, comfort and protection.

The damages you can recover in a Dram Shop Act claim are subject to statutory caps. The limits that apply to accidents which occurred on or after January 20, 2015, are:

  • $65,511.99 per person for injury or property damage
  • $80,070.21 per person for loss of means of support or loss of society.

You are limited to only one recovery. So, let’s say you suffer $100,000 in damages in a drunk driving accident. If you recover $80,000 in damages from the drunk driver, you would be limited to recovering $20,000 in damages from the bar.

You would not be barred from a recovery if you contributed to the accident. However, you would be barred if it was found that you actively contributed to the driver’s intoxication by encouraging the driver to consume alcohol.

Seeking Compensation from the Drunk Driver

A criminal charge, which is aimed at punishing the drunk driver, and a civil law claim, which is aimed at making the drunk driver’s victim whole again, are totally separate legal matters.

If a drunk driver causes your accident they can be held responsible for any losses others have suffered in a crash. This includes your injuries and losses and those of other motorists, pedestrians or passengers injured in the crash.

If you have been hurt in a car accident caused by a drunk driver, a personal injury lawsuit is likely to be necessary for you to obtain the compensation you deserve for your losses.

Through a lawsuit against a drunk driver, you may be able to obtain compensation for:

It is important for you to understand that, while it obviously helps your case, the driver does not have to be convicted of DUI for you to prevail in a personal injury lawsuit. If you were injured because of the driver’s negligence or recklessness, you have a valid claim for compensation for your injuries and damages.

Under certain circumstances, other parties who facilitated a drunk driver’s consumption of alcohol may also be held liable for your injuries and losses such as the bar, restaurant or store – or even a social host – that served the driver

In addition to pursing compensation through the driver’s auto insurance policy, you can sue the driver personally for punitive damages. If proven, the driver would have to pay you the punitive damages awarded.

Any time there are indications that drinking and driving led to a car accident that left you injured, you should seek the advice of a personal injury attorney experienced with drunk driving accident cases. Contact Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. can help you, starting with a free, no-obligation legal consultation.

My son was riding around with his teenage friends and the driver crashed while texting on his Smartphone. Can we hold the driver responsible for our son’s injuries?

If your teenager or any family member was injured in an auto accident resulting from the driver’s negligence, including texting while at the wheel, you could be entitled to damages for the injuries.

One of the most dangerous situations a driver can place themselves, their passengers and others in is texting while driving. A texting driver is simply not paying attention to the road.

In 2009, Illinois enacted a law that prohibits sending or reading text messages and e-mail while driving. As of January 2014, Illinois will ban all use of hand-held cellphones while behind the wheel.

Texting while driving and other forms of distracted driving are acts of negligence, if not recklessness. Drivers who endanger others through this kind of behavior should be held accountable for the harm they cause in car accidents, and those who are injured deserve to be compensated for their losses.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) dedicates a detailed website to the problem of distracted driving at distraction.gov.

Our firm provides extensive information on texting accidents as well as distracted driving in general.

How much time do I have to file a motor vehicle accident claim?

In Illinois, you must bring a legal claim within a specific time period after a motor vehicle accident. This is known as the “statute of limitations.” The statute of limitations that applies to your case will depend on the type of claim you assert.

The following are the Illinois statutes of limitations that often arise in motor vehicle accident cases:

  • Personal injuryYou have two years from the date of the accident in which to file your claim. The date of the accident is called the “accrual date.”
  • Wrongful death You must bring a claim within two years from the date of the death.
  • Product liability Two years from the date of the accident for a personal injury claim. However, in no case can a lawsuit be filed 12 years from the date of the first sale or 10 years from the date of the first sale to the vehicle’s initial user – whichever comes earlier.
  • Dram Shop Act – You have one year from the date of the accident to bring a claim.

If you are suing a local government agency in Illinois, you must bring the action within one year from the date of the accident.

Exceptions may apply to your case. For instance, if a person has a legal “disability” such as being under the age of 18, the statute of limitations does not begin to run until after the disability has been removed.

I was injured when a car hit me while I was riding my bicycle on a Chicago street. The accident was the car driver’s fault, but I wasn’t wearing a helmet. Can I still file a lawsuit?

Yes, you can. Whether you were wearing a helmet has no impact on the negligence displayed by the motorist.

The same legal principles in other personal injury lawsuits apply to bike-car collisions. To prevail in the lawsuit, you must show the driver was at fault and drove negligently, and you must prove the extent of your damages.

If you have been seriously injured by a negligent driver while riding your bicycle, or if a member of your family has been killed or seriously injured, you should hire a personal injury attorney experienced with bicycle accidents to look at your case.

To learn more, please see our Bicycle Accidents section.

The driver’s insurance company has offered me a settlement, but it barely covers what I’ve spent on hospital bills so far. Should I take the money and sign a release?

Not unless you have first spoken with a lawyer and given the lawyer a chance to review the insurance company’s offer first.

You should never accept an insurance settlement or sign anything that an insurance company representative offers to you without the advice of a lawyer who is experienced with the type of accident you have been involved in. You could be giving up money you deserve.

You may not be getting fairly and fully compensated for your injuries and expenses, including:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Lost wages and future lost earnings
  • Pain and suffering.

The car accident attorneys at Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C., can sit down with you and review your circumstances to determine whether you are entitled to a better settlement for your losses.

If we are hired to assist you, we will work tirelessly to ensure you are fairly compensated. Please contact us today to schedule an appointment.

Can I get compensated if I was partly at fault for my car accident?

Even though your own negligence may have contributed to your car accident, you may still be able to recover damages. Whether you are eligible – and the amount you can recover – will depend on the extent of your fault.

Under Illinois’ modified comparative negligence law, you can recover damages as long as you are less than 50 percent at fault for the injuries you have suffered. However, your damages will be reduced according to the percentage of fault attributed to you. If you are more than 50 percent at fault, you are barred from recovering anything.

So, let’s say you are sitting at a red light. When the light turns green, you delay going. A driver approaching your car from the rear fails to notice you are stopped because he or she is texting while driving. You suffer $100,000 in damages in the rear-end collision.

If your delay is found to have contributed 10 percent to the crash, you would not be barred from a recovery. However, your recovery would be reduced by 10 percent. As a result, the most you could recover would be $90,000.

Comparative negligence may be an issue when negotiating a settlement with an insurance company. Your lawyer’s role will be to make sure that no undue blame is placed on you and to seek the full amount you are due.

How do I know if I have an auto accident lawsuit?

It is crucial to meet with an attorney as soon as possible after you are injured in a crash. The attorney can conduct a thorough review of your case and determine whether it would be in your best interest to pursue an auto accident lawsuit.

When a lawyer reviews your case, the lawyer will focus on three basic factors: Fault, damages and insurance.

First, the lawyer will examine whether another party was at fault for the crash. Fault means that another driver caused the crash. Examples are:

  • A motorist who engaged in careless or reckless driving such as speeding
  • A mechanic who failed to perform an adequate repair
  • A manufacturer who sold a defective vehicle or vehicle part
  • A government agency who allowed a hazardous road condition to exist.

The lawyer will also look at whether you were partially at fault for the crash. Under Illinois law, you would be barred from a recovery if you were more than 50 percent at fault.

Second, the lawyer will determine the amount of damages involved in your case, including:

  • Past and future medical expenses
  • Past and future lost wages
  • Pain and suffering.

If the amount is minimal, an attorney may advise against pursuing a lawsuit.

Third, the lawyer will review insurance coverage available in your case, including the at-fault party’s liability coverage and, perhaps, your own coverage. For example, you may need to turn to your own uninsured / underinsured motorist (UM / UIM) coverage to pay for your damages.

If, after considering all of these factors, a lawyer advises you to go forward with an auto accident lawsuit, the lawyer will work aggressively to obtain full and fair compensation for you.

What happens during a car accident lawsuit?

Typically, you can expect a car accident lawsuit to go through the following stages after your initial consultation with a lawyer:

  • Initial investigation – An attorney will investigate your case and consult with experts to determine why the crash occurred, who should be held responsible, how much should be sought in damages and what insurance coverage is available to cover the damages.
  • Filing of a complaint – Once the investigation is complete, the lawyer will file a lawsuit, or complaint, in the proper court – typically, in the county where the accident occurred. The lawsuit will name the party from whom a recovery is sought such as the other driver involved in the crash. In some cases, multiple parties may be named in a lawsuit.
  • Discovery – After a lawsuit is filed, a formal information-gathering process can begin. This is called “discovery.” The parties may seek answers to questions (interrogatories) and request production of documents. They may also obtain sworn written statements (affidavits) or oral statements (depositions). A medical examination may also occur.
  • Settlement negotiations – At the proper time, your attorney will send a demand letter, or package, to the at-fault party’s insurance company. The demand will request a specific amount in damages. This typically will start settlement negotiations. If a full and fair settlement is reached, you will sign a document which releases the at-fault party from liability, or from being sued in the future.
  • Trial – If a settlement cannot be reached, the case will go to trial. Both sides will have the opportunity to present evidence. Then, the judge or jury will make its decision, or reach a “verdict.” If the verdict is in your favor, a decision will be made on how much you should receive in damages. The court will enter a judgment in that amount. In some cases, a party may admit liability. So, a trial will concern only damages.
  • Post-trial – After trial, either side may file motions or an appeal to a higher court. After those post-trial matters are resolved, additional legal action may need to be taken to collect the judgment.
  • Disbursement – The final stage in the case will be to disburse funds that are obtained through a verdict or settlement, including resolving any liens attached to your recovery and paying attorney fees. The amount you receive will be paid in a lump sum or in a structured schedule of payments.

How long will my car accident lawsuit last?

Many factors go into the amount of time it takes to resolve a car accident lawsuit. These factors include:

  • Investigation – In many cases, how a crash occurred and who should be held responsible can be easily identified. However, if the cause of the accident requires extensive investigation, or if a case involves multiple parties, it may lengthen the time it takes to complete an investigation.
  • Settlement negotiations – A settlement can often be reached without the need for lengthy negotiations. It helps to present a case to the insurance company that has been carefully prepared. This means that legal responsibility (or liability) and the amount of damages being sought are supported by solid evidence. However, if the auto insurance company refuses to agree to a full and fair settlement, it can add time to a case.
  • Trial – A motor vehicle accident trial may last a few days or several weeks. It depends on the amount of evidence that each side presents. In some cases, a party may admit liability for an auto accident, and a trial will be held only on the issue of how much damages should be paid.
  • Collection – If a case is resolved through a settlement, you should expect to collect the settlement amount within a month after an agreement is reached. If a case is resolved through a judgment, however, you could run into difficulties. An auto insurance company may choose to file post-trial motions or an appeal, which can add time to the case. In some cases, legal action may need to be taken to collect the judgment.

It is important to work with an attorney who will make sure that you receive the medical care and treatment you need while resolution of your case is pending, keep you updated about the progress of your case and work toward resolving your case as efficiently as possible.

What do I do if the other driver who was at-fault, does not have insurance?

You can use your own uninsured motorist portion of a policy of insurance that you have with your own automobile.  If you do not have a car, but you live at home with your parents, you may be able to use the policy of insurance on a parent’s vehicle.  There is always the possibility of suing the other driver and collecting the money from the driver personally, but a search of assets will reveal whether the person could ever afford to pay a judgment against him or her.

What if I miss time off of work, but I use my sick days, can I still recover for lost wages?

Yes, you can still recover your lost wages, even if you didn’t miss out on any money because you used sick or vacation time.  Those sick and vacation days were earned by you, and you still deserve compensation.  It is irrelevant and inadmissible under the collateral source rule in Illinois to admit into evidence the fact that you used sick, personal or vacation days when you were off work due to an injury.

What are some of the damages that I can recover when I am in a car accident in Illinois?

The damages will vary from case to case, but economic damages usually include medical bills and wage loss.  Other non-economic damages may include pain & suffering, loss of a normal life, or disability and disfigurement (i.e. scarring).  You can also seek damages that are reasonably likely to occur in the future if the foundation is laid by a qualified medical doctor to a reasonable degree of medical certainty.  Your spouse may also have his or her own claim for the loss of services, companionship,  or relationship, etc., which is called a loss of consortium.

How do I get my car repaired after an accident?

How and where you get your car repaired may be dictated by your insurance company.

Among the first steps to take after a car accident is contacting your insurer. The company may have specific requirements for filing a claim, including getting vehicle damage estimates. You will need to follow those steps.

For instance, the insurer may have certain Chicago garages it wants you to use for estimates or the actual repair work on your car. If you have a shop you prefer, you may be able to get them to agree to your using it, or the insurer may refuse to go over the amount estimated by the repair shop it chose.

Please note: Before your car is towed or taken by you to a garage for repairs, it needs to be examined for important evidence about your car crash. This is why contacting a car accident lawyer is also among the first steps to take after a car accident.

If Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. is working on your case soon enough, we can examine your car before evidence it contains is disturbed or destroyed. We can also examine the other driver’s car for potentially important evidence before it is lost – even if we need to get a court order to do so.

Another important consideration regarding repairs is what the insurance adjuster decides about your car. You may be told that it is “totaled.” This means the adjuster thinks the cost to repair your car is more than it is worth – or more than the company is willing to pay. The insurance company will provide an actual cash value (ACV) for your car, which is what it wants to pay you.

The ACV may well be less than what your car is worth, or your vehicle may actually be repairable.

You can challenge an adjuster’s decision that your car is totaled, and you can challenge the ACV put on a totaled car. You can also accept the ACV for your “totaled” car and have it repaired with that money plus your own. You will need to weigh the pros and cons of accepting or rejecting the insurer’s offer.

A car accident attorney from Salvi, Schostok & Pritchard P.C. can start to help you immediately after you contact us about your crash. We can help establish an ACV for your car and protect your rights to proper compensation for your damaged vehicle or help you to have it repaired.

We can also help you take steps to protect a potential injury claim and avoid mistakes that will hurt your claim.

If you have been in a car accident, contact us today for experienced and dedicated legal help.