Hit-and-run car crashes are often a terrible and traumatic experience for the victim, especially if they suffer any kind of injury. Normally, when a crash victim is injured due to another driver’s negligence, they are interested in pursuing litigation to recover compensation for their damages and have the opportunity to do so. This can become tricky in cases in which the driver flees the scene. If there is no way to identify the driver, there is nobody to sue. As a result, the victim may not be able to recover compensation for things like expensive medical bills, lost wages due to taking time off of work to recover, etc. Can your uninsured auto insurance policy be the saving grace that accident victims need in this situation? We’ll explore that in this blog. Read on for what drivers in Illinois should know about personal injury claims and hit-and-run accidents.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage: The Basics
Depending on the auto insurance policy, most people have different types of coverage included in their plan. For example, most plans include collision coverage, liability coverage, etc. Another important component of an auto insurance plan is uninsured motorist coverage, which is a type of insurance coverage that is designed to let you recover compensation for any personal injury and other losses related to an accident when the other driver involved in the crash does not have liability insurance for their vehicle.
In many cases, you will be able to determine if the other driver has insurance or not on the date of the accident. It is always best practice to call the police when an accident occurs, and when law enforcement arrives they will inquire into the car insurance policy information for every driver involved in the crash. If the negligent driver does not have insurance coverage, the police are likely to inform you.
If the police do not arrive at the scene of the accident, you will still need to exchange contact information and insurance information with the other driver. If this driver confesses to you that they are an uninsured driver, or does not have enough insurance to cover the damages, then you must take this as a cue to follow up with an uninsured motorist claim with your own insurance company. Upon notifying them, they will be able to verify the insurance status of all drivers involved in the crash.
Uninsured Motorist Coverage and Hit-and-Run Accidents
While the previous section described the process for recovering compensation through an insurance claim in cases where the uninsured motorist is complying with the basic rules and expectations following an accident, there are unfortunately many instances where an uninsured motorist will flee the scene after causing a crash. What happens when a victim who suffers a personal injury is also the victim of a hit-and-run?
Fortunately, uninsured motorist coverage in Illinois does covers hit-and-run accidents.
Identifying a Hit-and-Run Offender
Although victims of hit-and-run car accidents may assume all hope is lost with regards to pursuing litigation and recovering compensation since the driver fled the scene, this is not necessarily the case. There are many ways that a victim can help identify the offender in these cases. For example, if you are able to note the license plate number of the offending vehicle, it may help police track down the driver.
To that end, any identifying information about the driver and/or the vehicle in question will help police in their search for the offender. A physical description of the driver as well as the make, model, and color of the vehicle are important pieces of information that drivers should always be prepared to note in the event they are involved in an accident.
In addition, witnesses of the accident may be able to provide helpful information. Any nearby businesses or residences should be queried as well to determine if the premises are equipped with video surveillance equipment that can help identify the car and driver in question. This is typically taken on as part of the police investigation into the accident.
Recovering Compensation for Damages
In the world of personal injury law, damages are any costs that an accident victim incurs as a result of their injuries. Damages in personal injury litigation take two primary forms. The first, known as compensatory damages, are what the majority of Americans envision when they think of recovering monetary compensation for damages incurred in an accident. Compensatory damages, as the name suggests, are meant to “compensate” the injured person for the costs involved in remediating any injuries and damaged property that result from the accident. Compensatory damages can include the following:
Treatment for injuries: This can include both treatments received for immediate injuries at the scene of the accident as well as any ongoing treatment to address issues related to the limited range of motion an injury victim may experience after a crash. Consultation with an experienced local personal injury attorney can help plaintiffs assess the anticipated medical expenses before heading to court.
Lost income: A court can award compensatory damages to address not only the salary and wages lost due to time off work for medical treatment after an accident but also any future income lost due to complications or life adjustments that must be made because of the injury.
Vehicle damage/property damage: When a vehicle or other personal property is damaged in an accident, a plaintiff may be awarded compensatory damages in order to cover the costs of repairing or replacing the damaged items.
Wrongful death: In the absolute worst-case scenario, the victim of a hit-and-run does not survive the crash. In this case, the deceased loved ones may be able to pursue a wrongful death suit, which could help cover costs for funeral expenses and burial.
Although compensatory damages are the primary form of compensation used by personal injury courts, there exists a second form of damages that may benefit plaintiffs in certain cases. Known as punitive damages, this type of compensation is awarded to plaintiffs in order to “punish” the defendant for their actions. Punitive damages are typically only awarded in cases where the defendant’s behavior was reckless or negligent to a significant degree. These damages are meant to send a message that the behavior that caused the accident has serious consequences.
How to Win Your Court Case
In order for a court to award monetary compensation for damages to a plaintiff, the plaintiff and their personal injury attorney must be able to prove that the injuries they suffered from the accident were due to the negligent behavior of the other party involved in the crash. If the plaintiff was substantially responsible for the accident, they are likely going to face significant challenges in recovering compensation from the court system.
Illinois follows “modified comparative negligence,” which essentially means that a court will look at the actions of every party involved in an accident and assess a percentage of fault to each. If a plaintiff’s degree of fault is 50% or greater, they will be subsequently forced to forfeit any chance at recovering compensation for their damages.
Put another way, an accident victim who is more than halfway responsible for the accident is not actually deemed a “victim” in the eyes of the court, but rather viewed as the predominant cause of the accident (the at-fault driver) and therefore not eligible to receive compensation for their damages. Therefore, although it may be a reflexive notion to pursue litigation after suffering an injury from an auto accident, it is important that prospective plaintiffs take time to truly assess the events leading to the accident, including their own actions. Consultation with an experienced local personal injury attorney can help plaintiffs to better understand if pursuing litigation is appropriate in the given circumstances.
Another important point to consider when going through the litigation process is that if a plaintiff is deemed partially at fault, but less than halfway responsible for an accident, they are able to recover damages under Illinois state law. However, the amount of compensation that the plaintiff will ultimately be awarded will be reduced by a percentage that is relative to the degree of fault a court assigns to the individual.
For example, a plaintiff who is deemed 25% responsible by the court (perhaps for speeding at the time of the crash) will be eligible for compensation. However, whatever final compensation amount the court determines for the plaintiff will be reduced by 25%, reflecting the degree of fault the plaintiff was assigned for the accident.
Getting Professional Legal Counsel
Navigating the legal frameworks involved in personal injury litigation can be a daunting experience for the average American. Especially for those who are in the process of recovering from a serious injury, the legal process can seem insurmountable. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that there is no way to get justice as a victim of a hit-and-run driver. Always consult an experienced attorney first to explore your options. For years, the attorneys at Palermo Law Group have been helping accident victims in Oak Brook and throughout Chicagoland as they pursue the litigation process. Contact Palermo Law Group today for a free consultation.