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.

By , J.D.
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  • It helps to have an understanding of state laws that could come into play after a traffic accident in Illinois (whether or not you end up making any kind of legal claim), including:

    • the basics of how fault for an Illinois car accident affects the options of those who have been injured or had their vehicle damaged
    • the potential deadlines for filing most car accident injury lawsuits in Illinois, and
    • when you're required to report a car accident in Illinois.

    How Does Fault Affect an Illinois Car Accident Case?

    While several states follow a "no-fault" system for car accidents, at least when it comes to car insurance, Illinois is a traditional "fault"-based state. That means the person who is at fault for the car accident is also liable for all resulting injuries, vehicle damage, and other losses. Of course, from a practical standpoint it's the at-fault driver's car insurance company that will absorb most of these losses, up to the driver's liability coverage limits. A little later on we'll discuss what happens when the claimant bears some amount of fault for a car accident in Illinois.

    What Car Accident Losses Are Compensated In Illinois?

    If you're filing a car insurance claim or a car accident lawsuit after a crash in Illinois, you're entitled to compensation for the full spectrum of your losses (called "damages" in the language of the law), including:

    • cost of medical care that was reasonably necessary to treat your car accident injuries
    • your mental and physical pain and suffering in the wake of the accident, especially when it comes to the impact of your injuries on your life
    • lost income and other financial losses that can be traced to the effects of the accident.

    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.)

    The Statute of Limitations for Car Accident Injuries In Illinois

    The statute of limitations that applies to a car accident lawsuit for injuries 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.

    The Illinois Wrongful Death Statute of Limitations Could Apply After a Car 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.)

    The Statute of Limitations for Vehicle Damage Lawsuits In Illinois

    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 If I Miss the Illinois Statute of Limitations Deadline After My Car Accident?

    If you try to file the initial complaint (the document that starts the case) after the applicable time window has closed, you can count on the Illinois court refusing to hear your car accident lawsuit, 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.

    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.

    When Do I Need to Report a Car Accident In Illinois?

    According to the Illinois State Police, any driver involved in a traffic crash must file an accident report if the crash caused injury, death, or more than $1,500 in property damage ($500 if any driver is uninsured).

    If a police officer does not appear on the scene, the drivers involved need to file a report with the Illinois State Police within 10 days. If a police officer does respond to the scene, they'll take care of the accident reporting as part of their investigation of the crash.

    Getting Help After an Illinois Car Accident

    It always makes sense to arm yourself with a basic understanding of the laws that could come into play if you're ever in a car accident in Illinois, but when you're actually injured in a crash, you may want to discuss your situation (and your options) with an experienced legal professional.

    Learn more about when you might need a lawyer after a car accident., and how to find the right attorney for an injury case. You can also use the features on this page to connect with an Illinois car accident lawyer in your area.

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