Like many professions, the value of an experienced personal injury attorney typically is not fully appreciated until someone needs their services. When considering the complexity of state and federal legal systems, the average citizen can easily become lost in the legal jargon and procedural frameworks that form the civil litigation system.
A personal injury lawyer helps accident victims fight for their rights to fair compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, etc. after suffering injuries due to someone else’s negligent behavior. To achieve this goal, experienced attorneys work with accident victims to assess the severity of their injuries and the impact the accident has had on their personal and professional lives.
Personal injury cases involving car crashes typically encompass navigating not only the civil court systems but also the insurance companies representing both the plaintiff and the defendant. Ensuring a successful case means a deep understanding of the types of monetary compensation (i.e. “damages”) available to victims, as well as the important consideration of negligence in whether or not a plaintiff stands a chance at winning their case.
When deciding whether or not to take legal action against another driver following a motor vehicle accident, consultation with an experienced local personal injury attorney is always the preferred course of action. However, this article aims to provide some basic information on how an attorney can help you pay for car accident injury treatment.
Common Car Accident Injuries
Both minor and serious injuries are common in car crashes, most of them requiring medical attention. Here are a few types of injuries you should be aware of:
Whiplash: In car accidents, whiplash is a neck injury caused by the sudden deceleration that occurs during a vehicle collision. It's also a soft tissue injury, which means it damages the tissue and ligaments in the neck area. If left untreated, this minor injury can escalate form neck pain into a more severe problem.
Traumatic Brain Injury: TBIs can cause headaches, dizziness, and sometimes changes in mood or behavior. Those suffering a TBI often report an increase in trouble with memory and concentration. Over time, severe TBIs cause headaches that continually get worse, repeated vomiting or nausea, convulsions or seizures, balance and coordination issues, and slurred speech.
Concussions: Concussions are actually a mild form of TBIs and can vary widely in the severity of symptoms. Similar to other head injuries, if you have a concussion you might feel dazed, confused and disoriented. Later, the side effect of concussions can include headaches, balance issues, and in more severe cases, personality changes. They can also trigger mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and other emotional issues.
If you believe you may have symptoms of any of these injuries, or others, seek medical care immediately.
Types of Damages in Personal Injury Cases
When a driver suffers personal injury from an auto accident and is considering litigation, two primary questions emerge. The first question is, “Am I likely to win my case?” The second question is, “How much is my case worth?” While the next section will address the first question, this section aims to help accident victims better understand how to value their case before going to court.
In personal injury court cases, “damages” is the term typically used to describe money that is paid to the plaintiff (i.e. the injured victim) by the person or organization that is found to be legally responsible for the accident. Organizations can include businesses or the insurance company that represents individuals or companies.
Sometimes, damages are agreed upon through a settlement, which is negotiated between both plaintiff and defendant and their insurance companies, usually with the expert guidance of experienced personal injury attorneys. In the event that a personal injury lawsuit makes it to trial, only a judge or jury can award monetary damages. Two types of damages can be awarded by the court: Compensatory damages and punitive damages.
Compensatory damages are what most people think of when they envision winning a personal injury lawsuit. Compensatory damages are intended to compensate the plaintiff for what was lost due to their accident and subsequent personal injury. From a monetary perspective, compensatory damages aim to rectify the financial loss incurred by the plaintiff.
Assigning an accurate dollar value to compensatory damages is as much an art as a science. Some factors are easy to quantify, such as reimbursement for property damage to the vehicle and medical bills incurred from treatment of injuries. However, factors such as “pain and suffering” or the loss of enjoyment of hobbies and general quality of life factors can be much harder to assign a dollar value to. Consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney can help plaintiffs determine how much to pursue in compensatory damages for medical bills, lost income from time off work, property loss, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment.
Compared to the ubiquity of compensatory damages in personal injury cases, punitive damages are reserved for cases where the defendant’s behavior was especially negligent and careless. While compensatory damages are intended to help a victim feel whole again, punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant for their reckless behavior.
Punitive damages will still be awarded to the plaintiff, but the intention is to send a message to the defendant and deter them from behaving similarly in the future.
While the previous section was intended to assist prospective plaintiffs in answering the question, “How much is my case worth?”, this section will help plaintiffs determine if they are likely to actually win their case in the first place. After all, compensatory (and sometimes punitive) damages are only awarded to plaintiffs when the court determines these damages are appropriate. What, then, can lead a court to determine a plaintiff should not be compensated for their damages?
The answer boils down to how negligent each party involved in the accident was behaving in the events leading to the incident. Illinois state law follows a doctrine of fault determination known as “modified comparative fault.” Under this system, a court will look at the actions of both parties involved in an auto accident, and assign a percentage of fault to each. If the plaintiff in a given case is determined to more than 50% at fault for an accident, he forfeits his opportunity to recover any financial compensation from the court.
Therefore, if a plaintiff is determined by the court to be 20% at fault for an accident, they are still eligible to recover monetary compensation for damages incurred. However, the court will reduce the final compensation amount by 20% in order to reflect the involvement of the plaintiff in the accident. Consultation with an experienced local personal injury attorney is always recommended prior to pursuing litigation, in order to determine if the costs and time involved are appropriate given the likely level of fault on behalf of the plaintiff.
One final factor to consider when assessing fault is a concept known as “failure to mitigate damages.” Say for example that an accident victim does not seek proper medical treatment after an accident, and their injuries become more severe and costly as a result. A court is unlikely to compensate plaintiffs for the later costs involved in treatment, since the costs to everyone involved would have been less if the victim had sought treatment immediately. Plaintiffs who attempt to deceive the courts are rarely rewarded and often punished for this behavior.
The Role of Auto Insurance in Recovering Damages
Illinois, like the majority of other states, has passed a series of laws that require motorists to carry a specific minimum amount of liability insurance for their vehicle. In the event that a driver causes a traffic accident on the state’s roadways, this liability insurance is often the first item utilized to mitigate the financial impact of the accident.
When it comes to determining financial responsibility for personal injuries from auto accidents, Illinois is what is known as a “fault” car accident state. This means that the individual who is deemed to be at fault for the accident is the one who is responsible for compensating any injured parties involved in the accident.
In practice, the individual rarely personally covers these costs. Instead, it is that individual’s insurance company who pays compensation to the injured parties. Consequently, the at-fault driver typically faces a substantial increase in insurance rates for coverage after their provider pays out compensation for an accident and injuries their client has caused. In some severe cases, the client may end up being dropped from coverage due to their negligent driving behavior.
Car accident victims in a fault state such as Illinois have the option to either file a claim with their own insurance company as long as the loss is covered in their policy, file a third-party claim directly with the negligent driver’s insurance company, or elicit the services of an experienced local personal injury attorney and file a personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the driver who caused the accident.
In cases where the negligent driver behaved in an egregious manner to the extent that punitive damages may be warranted, the injured person may consider pursuing both an insurance claim and a personal injury lawsuit in an attempt to recover additional compensation for damages incurred. Consultation with a personal injury attorney can help victims determine what the best course of action is given their unique circumstances.
Statute of Limitations
Victims of automobile accidents in Illinois have two years from the date of the accident to file a lawsuit. However, as most auto accident attorneys can attest, it is best to act as swiftly as possible when deciding to pursue civil litigation. The longer an individual chooses to wait to file suit, the more complicated the case can become, especially when considering the need to track down the offending party and the manner in which the court could interpret the plaintiff’s actions as “failure to mitigate damages.”
Professional Legal Expertise in Chicago
When it comes to navigating the world of personal injury litigation, the average citizen often finds themselves in way over their head and requiring legal help. For years, the car accident lawyers at Palermo Law Group have been helping accident victims in and around the Chicago and Oak Brook areas fight for their rights to fair compensation following an auto accident where another party was at fault. Contact the law firm of Palermo Law Group today to schedule a free consultation.