Illinois Car Accident Laws

The statutory time limits for filing a car accident lawsuit in the Illinois court system, and how the state's comparative negligence rule applies to car accident cases.

If you've been injured after any kind of traffic accident in Illinois, or just incurred damage to your vehicle, there are a few state laws that could have a big impact on any car accident case you decide to pursue, including:

  • the two-year deadline for filing most car accident injury lawsuits
  • the five-year time limit on the filing of most lawsuits for vehicle damage caused by an accident, and
  • Illinois's "modified comparative fault" rule, which allows for financial recovery only when the claimant was 50 percent or less responsible for causing the car accident.

That's the overview of the law in Illinois. Now, let's look at the details.

The Illinois Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on the right to bring a lawsuit. These deadlines vary depending on the kind of harm you suffered and/or the kind of case you want to file.

(Note: the statute of limitations applies to car accident lawsuits, not car insurance claims. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim—or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim—"promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days. Learn more about contacting your insurance company after a car accident.)

In most cases, the statute of limitations that affects a car accident lawsuit in Illinois is the same as the larger one that applies to all personal injury cases filed in the state. Specifically, 735 Illinois Compiled Statutes section 5/13-202 says, "Actions for damages for an injury to the person . . . shall be commenced within two years next after the cause of action accrued." That means anyone injured in a vehicle crash—whether a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian—must get their lawsuit filed within two years of the date of the accident.

If anyone was killed in the crash, and a family member or a representative of the estate wants to file a wrongful death lawsuit, the same two-year deadline applies, but the "clock" starts running on the day of the accident victim's death, which could be later than the date of the accident itself. (740 ILCS 180/2.)

Finally, if your lawsuit is over vehicle damage only (or if you are seeking the repair or replacement of some other kind of damaged property), 735 ILCS 13-205 gives you five years to get that kind of case filed in court.

What happens if you don't get your lawsuit started before the deadline passes? If you try to file the initial complaint (the document that starts the case) more than two years after the accident, you can count on the court refusing to consider it, unless a rare exception applies to extend the deadline. That's why it's so crucial to understand the statute of limitations and abide by the time limit as it applies to your situation.

Keep in mind that not every car accident will lead to a lawsuit. But even if you think your situation will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, it's a good idea to leave yourself plenty of time to get a car accident lawsuit filed in Illinois's court system, and talk to an experienced lawyer if you think you might be running up against the filing deadline.

What if a government employee's negligence caused your car accident?

If you were injured and/or had your vehicle damaged as a result of the negligence of a government employee in Illinois—you were rear-ended by a city bus, for example—any claim you file will need to follow a special set of rules. Learn more about filing an injury claim against the government in Illinois.

Comparative Negligence in Illinois Car Accident Cases

If the other driver was entirely at fault for your car accident, the result is usually predictable: The other driver (through their insurance carrier) will pay to compensate you for medical bills, lost wages, and other losses you suffered. But what happens if you were partly at fault for the crash?

Illinois follows a "comparative fault" rule when both parties are found to share blame for an accident. In most car accident cases, the jury is asked to calculate two things based on the evidence: The total dollar amount of the plaintiff's damages, and the percentage of fault that belongs to each party. Under the comparative fault rule, the plaintiff's damages award is reduced by a percentage equal to his or her share of fault. But if the plaintiff's share of fault is more than 50 percent, he or she can't recover any damages at all.

For instance, suppose that in your case, the jury decides your total damages award should be $100,000 (including your medical bills, lost income, vehicle damage, and "pain and suffering"). But the jury also decides you are 40 percent responsible for the accident (maybe you were speeding). Under the Illinois comparative fault rule, you are entitled to get 60 percent of the $100,000 total, or $60,000—still a significant amount, but well short of your total damages.

Not only does the comparative negligence rule bind Illinois judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, after all. But don't let that prevent you from pursuing an auto accident settlement or lawsuit. Instead, talk to an attorney about your situation and your best course of action.

You can find the Illinois comparative negligence rule spelled out in the state's laws at 735 ILCS 5/2-1116.

Illinois Car Insurance Rules and Requirements

Car insurance is certain to play a part in any claim that's made after a car accident. Illinois, under the state's "mandatory insurance law," requires the owner of a motor vehicle to maintain a certain amount of insurance coverage in order to drive legally on the state's roads and highways. So, understanding the Illinois auto insurance rules is essential to any potential car accident case.

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