The Complete Illinois Car Accident Guide

Illinois car accidentEach year in the State of Illinois there are approximately 300,000 car accidents.¹ That’s over 800 car accidents each day!

What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in an Illinois Car Accident…

Car accidents occur spontaneously. In the aftermath, cars are often damaged and people injured. Whether you’re the victim or the at-fault driver, it’s vital for you to know what to say and do. It’s also important to be aware of what information to gather at the accident scene.

Since knowledge is the key to protecting you from unwarranted claims of injury and property damage, we have provided you with 10 steps to follow after an Illinois car accident. We have also included answers to the most frequently asked questions to further assist your pursuit for compensation against a negligent driver.

Step 1 – Stop, Call for Help and Check for Injuries

Illinois stop help call

If you’ve been in an accident, pull over and call 911. The law requires drivers involved in an Illinois car accident to stop immediately at the scene to see if anyone is injured. Once stopped, drivers must give each other their names, addresses, the registration number of the cars, and if asked, each driver must show their driver’s license.

What do I tell the 911 operator?
Give the 911 operator the following information:

Accident location: Be specific. Give the 911 operator every detail about exactly where you’re located.

Accident details: Be sure to include if any of the vehicles involved are blocking traffic. If they are, the 911 operator will likely dispatch police so they can set up flares, secure the scene, and direct traffic.

Any injuries: Car accidents can result in injuries to drivers, passengers, and in some cases even to pedestrians. Some injuries may be obvious, while others less so.  If you or anyone else is complaining of pain, bleeding, is confused, dizzy, or vomiting, tell the operator to send medical help immediately.

Don’t be a tough guy (or gal)! If you’re injured, do not refuse medical help. Doing so may jeopardize not only your health, but can adversely affect a future personal injury claim against the other driver.

Will police respond to the accident?
While every law enforcement agency has different rules for responding to Illinois car accidents, most agencies will not dispatch officers unless there are injuries, the accident is blocking traffic, or the scene is likely to jeopardize the safety of others.

What if I’m not injured, but others are?
You must “render reasonable assistance” to anyone who appears to be injured. This means doing whatever you can to help them. If an injured person asks, you must drive or make arrangements for them to be transported to the local hospital.

What if I’m injured?
Most people are in some degree of shock after an accident. Adrenaline pumps through the body, and symptoms of injuries are often masked. If you feel merely “shaken up” after the accident, you may still be injured and just not know it. Some injuries like swelling, strains and sprains, can take several hours or even days before symptoms are manifested.

If you’re in pain, dizzy, bleeding, experiencing numbness, nausea, or are having trouble breathing, you may be seriously injured. When the paramedics arrive do not refuse medical assistance. Let them evaluate you and determine whether your injuries are serious enough to transport you to the local emergency room.

It’s vital that you seek medical care immediately following an accident. Any delay in seeking treatment could cause the insurance company to take the stand that your injuries are from some other event entirely.

What is Direct and Proximate Cause?
Direct and proximate cause refers to an event (or chain of events) which results in damage or injury. Moreover, during the chain of events there are no separate intervening causes.

Example of Direct and Proximate Cause:

John was driving home from work. Mary was also driving home from work and traveling on the same road, directly in front of him. John had a long day at work and fell asleep at the wheel. As he did, he ran into the back of Mary’s car, causing extensive damage to her car and causing her to sustain head and neck injuries.

The fact that John fell asleep while driving constituted negligence. This negligence was the event which caused him to crash into Mary’s car. The time between John falling asleep and crashing into Mary’s car had no other intervening factors which affected or influenced the crash. Therefore, it can be said John’s negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the crash, as well as Mary’s subsequent property damage and personal injuries.

What if there are no injuries and only property damage?
You must still stop your car at the accident scene, or as close to it as possible. Remain at that location until you and the other drivers involved in the accident have exchanged the information required.

What if I can’t find the property owner?
If you’ve been in an accident with an unattended car, or you crash into other property where the owner cannot be immediately found, stop immediately at the scene. You must make every reasonable effort to locate the owner of the car or damaged property.

If you’re able to locate the owner, show them your driver’s license and vehicle registration. You must also give the owner your insurance information, your home address, and if you aren’t the owner of the car, the owner’s home address.

If you can’t find the property owner, attach a written notice that explains what happened. Be sure to give your name, address, and registration number of the car.

After giving the property owner the above information or leaving it on the damaged property, call or drive to the nearest law enforcement agency and report the accident.

Step 2 – Gather Evidence, Exchange Information

Illinois accident evidence

The information gathered at the accident scene will be the foundation upon which you will build your property damage and personal injury claim.

To have any chance of succeeding in your claim, you will have to prove the other driver was at fault, and that their negligence was the direct and proximate cause of your injuries and resulting damages.

What are damages?
Damages are the items for which you will be pursuing compensation from the other driver. They can include:

  • Your ambulance and emergency room costs
  • Costs of transportation to and from your appointments
  • Out-of-pocket expenses for items such as:
    – Medications
    – Crutches
    – Slings
    – Neck collars
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering

Begin documenting your damages as soon as possible after the accident, and continue documenting them through treatment and recovery. Doing this is vital to settling your personal injury claim. Make copies of medical and therapy bills and records, receipts for out-of-pocket expenses, and a letter of verification from your employer listing the days you missed and the wages you lost.

What information should I exchange at the accident scene?
Start gathering evidence as soon as you step out of the car. The more evidence you gather at the scene, the stronger your claim will be. Illinois law requires drivers and passengers involved in an accident to exchange the following information:

  • Names of drivers and car owners
  • Current home addresses and telephone numbers of drivers and passengers
  • Registration numbers of the cars involved in the accident
  • Insurance information

Is there any other information which will help my claim?
Yes. The more information you gather at the accident scene, the better your chances of negotiating a substantial settlement with the insurance company. Promptly gathering accurate information affords you a position of strength when negotiating with the claims adjuster. Doing so also demonstrates that you’re serious about your injury claim and dedicated to resolving it promptly.

Here are some additional items which will help support and expedite your claim:

Vehicle information:

  • Vehicle make, model, year
  • License plate number
  • Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
    (NOTE: The VIN can be found on the car’s dashboard in the bottom left corner of the windshield. It can also be located on the driver’s insurance card, or in the door jam of the driver’s side door.)

Passenger and witness information:

  • Names and addresses
  • Telephone numbers
  • E-mail addresses
    (NOTE: Ask the witnesses to wait until the police arrive. It’s likely the police may want to ask them what they saw and heard. This is especially true if there is a question of fault.)

Diagram of the scene including:

  • Placement of the cars immediately before and after the crash
  • Weather conditions. Was it raining, snowing, or foggy? Was it overcast, cloudy, or sunny?
  • What time of day did the accident occur?
  • What direction was each car traveling?
  • How fast was each vehicle going?

Step 3 – Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company

Illinois call insurance

Your insurance policy requires you to report all accidents involving personal injury or property damage. The clause in your policy that requires you to do this is called the “Cooperation Clause.”

What is the Cooperation Clause?
The cooperation clause is meant to give your insurance company as much lead time as possible to obtain information about the circumstances of an accident.

Your carrier wants to hear from you immediately following an accident to hear your side of the story and to be prepared before speaking with the other person involved.

By cooperating with your insurance company, you’re not only complying with the requirements of the cooperation clause, but you’re also helping them develop the information they will need to defend you against unwarranted allegations of negligence against you.

Why do I have to report the accident to my insurance company if it wasn’t my fault?
If you’re in an accident and fail to report it, you may be in for trouble. This is true even if you didn’t cause the accident.

Example of why it’s important to report accidents to your insurance company:

Justin was in a “fender bender” with Alice. She was about to make a right turn at a red light. As she inched her way out to make the turn, she stopped to let traffic pass. Thinking Alice was going to continue turning, Justin drove right into the rear of her car.

Both drivers pulled into a nearby parking lot to examine the damage. They each asked the other person if they were injured, but both felt fine. They exchanged contact and insurance information. Because the accident appeared minor, with no dents to either car and no apparent injuries, they both went on their way thinking they would never hear from each other again.

After arriving home, Alice decided her back was sore. She drove to the local hospital emergency room and was seen by a doctor. The next day Alice hired a personal injury attorney who advised her to see a chiropractor for therapy.

A month later Justin received a letter from Alice’s lawyer saying his client was seriously injured in the accident, and that Justin now owed his client $20,000 for her medical and therapy bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

By failing to immediately report the accident to his insurance company, Justin not only violated the terms of the cooperation clause, he also gave Alice’s attorney a head start on the claim. Justin was understandably shocked. He began to wonder if he was going to lose his life’s savings over an accident.

If Justin had only done what his insurance policy required him to do and contacted his insurance company right after the accident, he might not be in this position. Justin now wondered if his insurance company would cover him at all because he violated the terms of the cooperation clause in the policy.

What happens when I report the accident to my insurance company?
When you report an accident to your insurance company, a file will be created and a claim number given. A claims adjuster will be assigned and initiate an investigation into the accident.

It’s important to remember the adjuster is on your side. The adjuster does not want to pay another driver unless there’s proof you were at fault. Be sure to get the claim number. You will need it when corresponding with your insurance company.

Should I contact the other driver’s insurance company?
Before you contact the other driver’s insurance company, be sure to seek medical treatment. If you were not seriously injured or sustained only minor injuries, contact the driver’s insurance company as soon as possible after seeing a doctor to evaluate you.

If however you sustained serious injuries, seek medical treatment and then contact a personal injury attorney. After reviewing the circumstances of the accident, the attorney may agree to represent you. If so, the attorney will contact the insurance company for you.

What’s the difference between minor and serious injuries?
Minor injuries, also referred to as “soft tissue” injuries, can include minor bumps and bruises, abrasions, strains and sprains to muscles, whiplash, and the like.

More serious “hard injuries” can include fractures, serious head trauma, disk herniations, deep cuts and gashes often requiring stitches , 3rd degree burns, and injuries that require substantial medical treatment.

What should I do if the driver demands I pay them at the scene for damage to their car, or the driver says he is going to sue me?
Stay Calm. Tell the driver you will not discuss any payment with them at the scene. Instead,  refer the driver to your insurance company. Be sure to exchange names, contact information and insurance information.

The terms of your policy include a promise to defend you at no additional cost against any property damage or injury claims filed by another driver. This includes providing a defense attorney to represent you for free in case you’re sued.

Step 4 – File an Accident Report With the Police

Illinois call police

Why do I have to file a police report?
If police are dispatched to the scene of the accident, they will create and file an Illinois Motorist Crash Report and you won’t have to. The responding police officer will give you a copy of the report for your records.

However, if the police are not dispatched to the scene, you will have to file your own report if the apparent property damage is in excess of $1500. If one or more of the drivers didn’t have insurance, then the accident must be reported if the property damage is $500 or more.

To file your own crash report for a specific town or city in Illinois, go to the Motorist Report webpage and download the form.

If the accident occurred on an Illinois State Highway, it can be reported on the Illinois State Police website.

What if I think the accident really was my fault?
When a car accident occurs it’s normally because someone was at fault, or was driving negligently. What one driver sees as fault may not be what the other driver sees.

Drivers often tend to feel guilty and their immediate reaction is often to apologize. Statements like “I’m sorry, I didn’t see you,” or “I feel terrible about this,” should be avoided.  Once spoken, these types of statements are very hard to take back and can harm your claim when the insurance companies eventually become involved.

Do not discuss or admit fault at the scene of the crash. You may think you were at fault, but you may not know if the other driver also contributed to the crash. There are always many factors that need to be taken into account. For this reason, it’s best to leave it up to the insurance companies when it comes to determining fault.

Step 5 – Let the Police Do Their Job

Illinois police

When police officers are dispatched to the scene of an accident, they must perform a specific job they’ve been trained to do. That involves investigating the accident scene and creating an unbiased report of the circumstances that led the accident.

When the police arrive, you have a legal duty to listen to them and follow any orders they give. Arguing with the officers or telling them how to do their job is counter-productive. It will delay the process, and in extreme cases you could end up under arrest.

Do I have to answer the police officer’s questions?
Yes. If a police officer asks you a question about the accident, you must answer it truthfully. Politely ask the police officer for their name and shield number. Before the officer leaves, be sure the officer gives you a copy of the Motorist Crash Report.

What if the police give me a ticket?
If police are dispatched to the scene they will speak with you and other drivers involved in the accident. They may also speak with passengers, pedestrians, and other witnesses, search for for skid marks, take into account road conditions, weather, and other factors which contributed to the crash.

After taking into account all the circumstances, the police may decide you or another driver was at fault. If so, traffic citations may be issued. Common citations issued at accident scenes include Failure to Yield, Illegal Turn, Following Too Closely, Speeding, and Driving While Distracted.

While you have every right to speak with the police officers in an attempt to convince them you were not at fault, once the officer issues a citation you must accept it. If asked, you must also sign the ticket. Failing to do so may result in your arrest and incarceration.

Remember that a traffic citation is only circumstantial evidence of fault. It’s not conclusive evidence. Depending upon your prior driving record, the ticket may eventually be dismissed.

Step 6 – Modified Comparative Fault

Illinois modified comparative fault

What is Modified Comparative Fault?
Illinois has adopted the Modified Comparative Negligence Rule. Under this rule, you can recover damages if you’re 50% or less at fault for an accident. If you were more than 50% at fault however, you will be barred from recovering any amount of damages from the other driver.

For example, if the other driver is found 70% at fault and you’re found 30% at fault, you can collect money for your damages from the other driver because you were less than 51% at fault.

Example of Modified Comparative Fault

Let’s say you and another driver were involved in an accident and your medical bills were $10,000. After investigating the circumstances of the accident, the insurance company concluded the other driver ran a stop sign and that was the primary cause of the accident.

However, the investigation also revealed you were texting at the time of the accident. The insurance company decided the other driver’s negligence contributed to the accident by 80%, and because you were texting, you contributed to the accident by 20%.

Therefore, the insurance company will only offer you $8,000 to settle, instead of the $10,000 you were demanding.

Step 7 – Know Your Financial Responsibility

Illinois insurance

The law requires all drivers on public roads to carry property damage and personal injury liability coverage to compensate drivers, passengers, and pedestrians for injuries caused in an Illinois car accident.

The purpose of Illinois “financial responsibility” law is to ensure drivers have a means to pay for any damages they may cause to others.

How much insurance must I have?
The law requires all drivers carry insurance in the following minimum amounts:

  • $25,000 – injury or death of one person in an accident
  • $50,000 – injury or death of more than one person in an accident
  • $20,000 – damage to property of another person

Can I use an app on my phone to prove I have the required car insurance?
Yes. Illinois now allows drivers to use their cell phones or other electronic devices to show police officers proof of liability insurance coverage. Whether carried electronically or in person, you must always carry your insurance information and be prepared to show it upon request by any police officer.

What is the Illinois Safety and Financial Responsibility Law
The Illinois Safety and Financial Responsibility Law applies to all traffic accidents resulting in personal injury, death or property damage in excess of $500. Within 10 days of an accident occurring, you must file an accident report with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).

Step 8 – File a Property Damage or Personal Injury Claim

Illinois file claim

If your car was damaged or you sustained personal injuries as a result of a negligent driver, you have several options.

Because Illinois is not a no-fault state, you have the right to pursue a personal injury and/or property damage claim against the at-fault driver. This is referred to as filing a “third party” claim.

What is a third party claim?
Illinois also follows the “Third Party Claim Rule.” A third party claim is a property damage and/or personal injury claim filed by a driver demanding compensation for their damages resulting from another driver’s negligence. As a third party claimant, you have the right to do one or more of the following:

  • File a claim under your own insurance policy
  • File a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
  • File a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver

Step 9 – Hire an Attorney and File a Lawsuit

Illinois hire an attorney

Knowing when to hire an attorney is crucial in a claim for personal injuries. Usually the decision to hire an attorney will depend largely on the type of injuries you sustained.

There are some injuries which are relatively minor, referred to as “soft tissue” injuries. They can include sprains and strains to muscles, tendons, ligaments, minor bruising and abrasions, minor burns, and the like.

More serious or “hard injuries” include fractures, disk herniations, deep cuts and gashes usually requiring stitches, 3rd degree burns, head trauma, and injuries that require extensive medical care.

Most minor soft tissue injury claims can be handled without legal representation. However more serious hard injury claims always require legal representation by an experienced personal injury attorney.

When do I need an attorney?
Unlike soft tissue injuries which normally settle rather quickly, more serious hard injuries may require expert testimony, depositions, interrogatories, requests for production, and other legal procedures in order to convince the insurance company to settle your claim fairly.

There is just too much to lose by representing yourself in a serious injury claim. As a “pro se” claimant you have virtually no leverage with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. If the insurance company says that an amount is all they’re going to pay, then you’re stuck with it.

However, an attorney has the ultimate leverage. They can use every available legal tool, including trial if necessary, to convince the insurance company to either settle your claim fairly or take their chances in court.

How much will it cost to hire an attorney?
The good news is most personal injury attorneys don’t charge for initial office consultations. This means you can gather up all your evidence and meet with several personal injury attorneys in your area. Each attorney will review your evidence and tell you whether they believe your claim is viable, and if so, how long it may take to settle the claim, and the approximate amount your claim may eventually settle for.

Until the attorney settles your claim or wins in court, you will not have to pay the attorney any legal fees or other costs. When the claim is settled, you will have to pay the attorney about 33% of the gross settlement amount. The rest is yours to keep.

Can I sue the other driver in small claims court?
Illinois has established small claims courts throughout the state to deal with civil matters, including personal injury and property damage claims.  The maximum or “jurisdictional” amount you can sue for in small claims court is $10,000.

While attorneys are not prohibited from appearing in small claims court, most cases are handled without attorneys. For more information about filing a case in small claims court, visit the Illinois Attorney General website.

Step 10 – Know the Statute of Limitations

Illinois limitations

The Statute of Limitations is the time period during which you must settle your property damage or personal injury claim, or file a lawsuit against the negligent driver. Allowing the statutory period to expire will bar you from recovering any compensation from the negligent driver.

What is the Statute of Limitations period in Illinois?
The State of Illinois has a 2 year statute of limitations for personal injury and property damage claims. If you’re going to handle the claim yourself, be sure to place the date on your calendar. Be sure you give yourself plenty of time before the date arrives.

Remember, if you haven’t settled your claim with the insurance company by that date, then you must file a lawsuit to preserve any chance you might have of recovering any compensation at all.

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