Originally, Chicago was a regional transportation hub as the Midwest grew. Today, Chicagoland is a sprawling urban area that covers parts of three states. Chicago has changed dramatically over the years, but the drivers on city streets and the role of an auto accident attorney has not changed.
Then, as of now, most people knew the risks of driving while impaired or ignoring safety laws. Yet over 40% of Americans admit they drink and drive. Furthermore, many Americans admit they often engage in at least one unsafe behavior while behind the wheel. Other dangerous driver behaviors that are common include talking on a cell phone, running red lights, and driving while fatigued.
Victim compensation, a popular idea among many people today, is the core concept of a negligence case. This concept doesn’t change in different states. However, negligence laws vary among states, and even within different cities of the same state. Keep reading to learn more about the specific laws that affect how an auto accident attorney in Chicago may approach your case.
Overall, the number of fatal car crashes in Prairie State dropped sharply in the early 2000s. Around 2009, it began creeping up again. Then, in 2020, the number of fatal crashes increased to 16%, its highest level since 2006.
Surprisingly, that 2020 jump happened during coronavirus lockdowns when in many areas, vehicle travel plummeted. Researchers believe the nearly empty roads encouraged bad driver behaviors, such as speeding and driving while intoxicated. The lack of traffic enforcement in many areas reinforced these habits.
As the old saying goes, bad habits are hard to break. "I’m especially concerned that as more and more people go back on the roadways, that these patterns and behaviors don’t subside and people continue to speed, continue not to wear their seat belts, drive impaired — but there will be more people on the roads," one safety advocate remarked.
How an Accident Attorney in Chicago Shows Negligence
These three driving behaviors indicate a lack of concern for the safety of others. Legally, lack of concern is usually a lack of care, also called negligence. There are five basic elements of an ordinary negligence injury claim in Illinois:
- Duty. The duty of care for motorists comes from an old case. In 1932, Donoghue v. Stevenson introduced the neighbor principle: "The rule that you are to love your neighbor becomes in law, you must not injure your neighbor." In this context, neighbors are "persons who are so closely and directly affected by my act that I ought reasonably to have them in contemplation as being so affected when I am directing my mind to the acts or omissions which are called in question." Common carriers, such as bus drivers and Uber drivers, usually have a higher duty of care in Illinois.
- Breach. Essentially, the breach is a violation of the duty of care. Not every driving error is a breach of care, but most are. Speeding is a good illustration. To most Cook County jurors, speeding 5 miles per hour over the limit, though unwise, is not dangerous. However, speeding 10 miles per hour or greater over the limit is a different story.
- Cause. To get payment for a victim, an auto accident attorney in Chicago must show a connection between the breach and the damages. Attorneys must prove this connection by a preponderance of the evidence (showing it is more likely than not). That’s one of the lowest burdens of proof in Illinois law, so a little proof goes a long way.
- Foreseeability. The cause is what an auto accident attorney in Chicago must prove in court. Foreseeability, or whether the driver could see that a crash might happen, is a legal question for a judge to decide. This concept comes from 1928’s Palsgraf v. Long Island Railroad Company. A passenger dropped a load of fireworks. The fireworks exploded and caused a pair of large scales to fall on Ms. Palsgraf. The court ruled that the railroad was not responsible for her injury even though its employees were negligent. The foreseeability chain was simply too long.
- Damage. An old saying in the law states that where there is a wrong, there is a remedy. In a vehicle collision claim, that “wrong” usually involves tangible personal injury or property damage. Illinois is a tort state in this area. An auto accident attorney in Chicago may file a legal claim for any victim and may get compensation for that person’s serious injuries.
Normally, this payment includes money to replace economic losses, such as missed work and medical bills. Payment is also available for emotional distress, loss of enjoyment in life, and other non-financial losses.
These five elements establish a prima facie, or preliminary, claim for damages. Several insurance company defenses are available in car wreck claims. The exact nature of these defenses varies in different states.
Car accidents often have more than one cause. This truth drives the comparative fault defense, also known as the contributory negligence defense.
For example, an insurance company, the defendant, might admit that Thelma, its insured driver, changed lanes illegally. However, lawyers might argue that Louise’s excessive speed caused the two drivers to collide. Usually, the insurance company is financially responsible for the cost of the case, including hiring a lawyer for the negligent driver and paying damages. An auto accident attorney in Chicago might be able to stop the defense at this point. As mentioned, there’s a big difference between slight speeding and excessive speeding.
If a judge disagrees and decides the defense could apply, jurors must listen to the evidence and then divide responsibility by percentage, such as 60%-40%, between Thelma and Louise.
Here’s where different state laws apply. In some states, any fault by the victim, no matter how slight, torpedoes a damage claim. But Illinois is a modified contributory negligence state with a 51% cutoff. An auto accident attorney in Chicago may be able to obtain payment for a victim if he or she is not more than 49% responsible for the accident.
The concept is the same everywhere, but specific laws vary. The seat belt defense is much the same. Almost every state has a mandatory seat belt law. However, the effect on a civil claim varies.
Illinois’ version of the seat belt law requires all occupants to be restrained in an age-appropriate way (car seat, booster seat, or seat belt). However, a victim’s failure to wear a seat belt is inadmissible in civil court. In other words, insurance companies cannot argue that non-restrained victims are responsible for their own injuries.
This law, which is based on 1985’s Clarkson v. Wright, also applies if a motorcycle rider or bicycle rider wasn’t wearing protective headgear at the time of the crash.
Statute of limitations is a third common defense in vehicle collision matters. Under state law, victims usually have two years to bring legal action. Judges must throw out lawsuits if an auto accident attorney in Chicago filed over the statute of limitations.
However, the two-year limit is not firm. Illinois also has a broad discovery rule. According to this rule, an auto accident attorney in Chicago need not file claims until they know the victim was hurt and they connect that injury with a party’s negligence.
This doctrine does not come up too often in car crash claims. Broken bones, head injuries and other trauma wounds are usually apparent right away. However, the discovery rule does apply in many dangerous drug claims. The side effects some drugs cause, like cancer, often don’t surface for many years.
How an Auto Accident Attorney in Chicago Shows Negligence Per Se
Speeding, device distraction, drunk driving, and most of the other bad driving behaviors mentioned above are against state law. This means it’s often not necessary to establish all five elements of a negligence claim in these situations. State law establishes the standard of care and a breach of care. Therefore, the victim need only show the following in a negligence per se claim:
- A negligent driver violated a safety law.
- This violation caused an injury.
The negligence per se rule varies across the United States. In some states, negligence per se is only a presumption of negligence. A lawyer must show more proof to establish liability (responsibility) for damages.
Certain laws vary in certain states as well. The cell phone law is a good example. Almost all states limit device use while driving in some form. Illinois’ has a universal hands-free law. Motorists cannot legally hold or use cell phones or other devices while they are behind the wheel. Also, drivers under age 19 may not use any device while driving, including a hands-free speakerphone.
Despite the broad application of negligence per se in the state, it doesn’t apply in many crashes. Emergency responders don’t always issue tickets following crashes. If a driver breaks a safety law, causes a wreck, and doesn't get a ticket, an auto accident attorney in Chicago must use the ordinary negligence doctrine. This makes the case more complex.
Illinois Driving Laws
The legal violations and victim needs after a car accident are the same in all fifty states. However, the laws in each state are often different.
Damage caps are a good illustration. The political campaign for damage caps, an effort spearheaded by insurance companies, goes back to a 1994 case, Liebeck v. McDonald’s, the infamous “hot coffee” case. A jury awarded 79-year-old Stella Liebeck $3 million after she spilled a hot cup of coffee on her lap. Insurance company groups slammed this case as “jackpot justice” and “lawsuit lotto.”
Largely because of this verdict, many states passed laws limiting the damages available in personal injury cases. But there are no such limits in Illinois. In most cases, the jury, and the jury alone, decide a fair amount of damages in a given case.
Collateral source rule. On a similar note, state courts follow a broad version of the collateral source rule. Assume Louise’s attorney negotiates with her doctor and lowers her $100,000 doctor bill to $75,000. In many states, Louise is only entitled to $75,000. But if her auto accident attorney in Chicago handles the negotiations, for legal purposes, her medical bills are still $100,000. As a result, Louise might get to keep the additional $25,000.
Vicarious liability. Third-party liability, or vicarious liability, is an important part of the payment in a car crash claim. If the victim had catastrophic injuries, an individual driver’s insurance policy might not pay enough to provide fair compensation. Following the pattern of broad, victim-friendly damage laws in the Prairie State, its vicarious liability laws are also broad and victim-friendly.
Dram shop laws. Illinois has a dram shop law. These laws don’t exist in many states but can hold commercial alcohol providers, like saloons and bars, liable for alcohol-related crash damages. An auto accident attorney in Chicago must prove that the establishment overserved a person who later caused a car accident.
Negligent entrustment. Negligent entrustment is another common theory. Vehicle owners, like parents, could be responsible for damages if they allow an incompetent driver, like a teen without a license, to operate their motor vehicles and then causes a crash.
Illinois laws are a bit complex in this area. According to 1989’s DeLeonardis v. Checker Taxi Company, there is a legal relationship between the vehicle owner and incompetent driver unless a party has sufficient evidence to the contrary.
Commercial negligent entrustment cases, like accidents involving U-Haul trucks, are even more complex, largely because of the federal Graves Amendment.
Compared to the state overall, the spike in vehicle collision deaths is even worse in Chicago. In 2020, car crash deaths in Windy City were up a staggering 45%. In desperation, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city would deploy controversial speeding cameras in certain areas.
Briefly, speeding cameras are controversial because they don’t measure vehicle speed. Instead, they measure how long it takes for a car to get from Point A to Point B. In 2019, when France introduced speeding cameras, demonstrators destroyed most of them during violent protests.
Speaking of local courts, Cook County, DuPage County, Kane County, and other area courts all have unique local rules. Acceptable evidence and procedure in one court might be unacceptable in another one. Since these rules are usually unwritten, your auto accident attorney in Chicago needs a great deal of experience to successfully handle your case.
The City of Chicago also has some special written rules. These include specific rules that apply in situations like coasting downhill and pulling out of parking spaces. Other rules protect certain pedestrians, especially young people, disabled people, and older people.
This community is the second-largest city in Chicagoland. Most of the fatal crashes in Aurora happen on or near Highway 25 (Broadway/Aurora Avenue), which follows the Fox River through the center of town. As a result, traffic enforcement is usually heavy in this area. Still, if the statistics are an effective measuring rod, this extra enforcement isn’t doing much good.
Due to the nature of car crashes in Aurora, if a juror is from this city, an auto accident attorney in Chicago usually looks closely at the juror’s address. If the juror lives near Highway 25, they are likely sympathetic to car crash victims. If the juror lives in another, quieter part of town, they might not especially care about crash victims.
This attention to detail may seem meaningless. In a major court case, though, it could be the difference between obtaining a fair result and settling for less.
Joliet and Naperville
We will combine these two cities because they are the Twin Cities of Chicagoland. They are not only next to each other but are also similar in many respects. That includes special traffic laws, unique court procedures, and neighborhood composition.
Venue issues are common in places like Joliet and Naperville. In this part of Chicagoland, a single town might be in three or four different counties. The venue, or choice of law, could affect your claim for damages.
Usually, an auto accident attorney in Chicago files a legal claim in the county where the victim lives or where the injury occurred. Either choice has some pros and cons.
Many car accident victims have a hard time getting around physically. It's hard to go a long way to attend every court hearing.
On the other hand, the physical evidence and eyewitnesses are most likely in the county where the accident happened. Since the victim or plaintiff has the burden of proof, an auto accident attorney in Chicago might be better able to obtain more significant damages in this area.
Proper venue is only one of the many decisions that victims and their lawyers must make in car crash claim matters.
The county seat of Winnebago County is the largest city in the state outside Chicagoland. As in all other areas of Illinois, the number of fatal car crashes has increased greatly in this area. In Rockford, car accidents kill twice as many people as violent criminals. "These are not minor fender benders and these are not minor lapses," observed Winnebago County States' Attorney J. Hanley.
In terms of special rules, Rockford is one of the only cities in the country with a negligence driving rule. It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle "in such a manner as to endanger or be likely to endanger any persons or property." Therefore, on the surface, it’s easier for an auto accident attorney in Chicago to establish negligence in car accident cases. Other Rockford city ordinances define reckless driving and prohibit most U-turns.
If you or a loved one were injured in a car accident, reach out to an auto accident attorney in Chicago to get the compensation and justice you need and deserve.