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, you probably want to understand your options for getting compensated for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few Illinois laws that could have a big impact on a car accident case, including lawsuit-filing deadlines and the state's rules when it comes to shared fault for an 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, but it does not apply to a car insurance claim. 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, or a few weeks.)

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 you have to get your lawsuit filed within two years of the date of the car accident.

But the filing deadline can be a little different if anyone was killed in the crash. In Illinois, a wrongful death lawsuit must be filed within the time limit the state has set for the underlying case, or within one year of the date of the deceased person's death, whichever is later, according to 735 ILCS 5/13-209. So, for car accident cases – which, again, must be filed within two years of the date of the accident -- that means the family or personal representatives of the deceased have at least one year, and as long as two years, to get the lawsuit filed.

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.

The next logical question is, 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 filing 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 keep all of your options open. 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 sum, but not as much as the grand total of your 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 Illinois Compiled Statutes section 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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