Chicago is a world-class city, so it’s only natural it draws most of the media attention and tourism. But history spans the Land of Lincoln from Springfield to Shawnee. And it’s no coincidence that everyone from comedians to corporations and musicians to political pundits wanted to know if “it would play in Peoria.”
Illinoisans do their best to stay safe, but some accidents are unavoidable. And while not every accident or injury warrants a lawsuit, Illinois personal injury laws provide a means to compensation if your injury was due to someone else’s actions or negligence. Whether you’re a third-generation Rockford resident, a sophomore studying in Evanston, Bloomington, or Champaign, or just visiting Waukegan for the weekend, here are some common questions regarding personal injuries in Illinois.
You should know upfront that most personal injury claims settle before anyone needs to file a lawsuit. Whether it is private insurance companies paying for repairs after a car crash or state-based workers’ compensation funds paying lost wages after a workplace accident, you likely won’t need to go to trial to get compensated for your injuries.
But the process can vary depending on where and how you were injured. In the examples above, you’ll need to contact your auto insurance company and maybe that of the other driver if someone rear-ends you on Rush Street. And if there’s a machinery malfunction at the Caterpillar plant, you’ll probably need to report it to your manager first. Slipped on ice on the Capitol steps? You might need to file a “notice of claim” before taking any legal action. Consulting with an attorney before taking any action, can help you understand how to protect your claim.
But even though claims can be resolved quickly, be wary of settlement offers. Some parties may try to rush the settlement process before the extent of your injuries can be fully evaluated. Even if you don’t think you’ll need to file a lawsuit, an experienced personal injury attorney can help assessing your claim and assisting in the settlement process. It’s never a good idea to sign any documents or make any formal statements without consulting with a lawyer first.
If you can’t reach a settlement that fully compensates you for your injuries, you can file a lawsuit against the party at fault in Illinois. There are all kinds of personal injuries, so the specific claims and what you’ll need to prove to be successful in court will be different depending on your claim. Here are some of the most common:
On-the-job injuries are covered by a statewide worker’s compensation system, which can pay you for lost wages, medical expenses, and future impairments to employment. In Illinois, you have 45 days to report a workplace accident to your employer, and if you miss more than three days of work, your employer must report the incident to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission. And you can file a claim if a non-employee, such as a customer, caused the accident but it occurred at work or while performing usual work duties off-site.
Workers’ comp pays out most claims without regard to fault by anyone, but if your claim is denied or there is a dispute about your benefits, you can file a claim with the Commission and request a hearing.
Injury claims can also be based on defective products. Manufacturers must ensure that their products will not injure consumers, and can be liable for injuries that arise from products that are defective due to their design or manufacture, or a failure by the manufacturer to provide adequate instructions or warnings of the potential risks associated with the product.
Unlike other personal injury claims, you may not need to prove negligence. You just need to demonstrate that the product was defective and that the defect caused your injury. Additionally, you can file a product liability lawsuit against any entity participating in the supply chain for that product, from the designer to the manufacturer to the retail store or all three.
Sometimes we’re injured by the ones who are supposed to make us well. Doctors and medical professionals owe a standard of care when treating patients, and commit malpractice if they fail to meet that standard.
Illinois courts broadly define the standard of care as the standards and practices that other medical professionals would take when treating a patient under similar circumstances. And proving a breach of that standard can be even more difficult, and require even more expert testimony, than proving fault in a car crash.
Also, whether you’re at a large hospital, specialty clinic or rural care center, doctors must have what is known as “informed consent” before they perform any procedure or provide medical treatment. This can be difficult in emergency situations, but treating a patient without disclosing all the benefits, risks, and alternatives — and confirming the patient understands these and consents to the treatment — can constitute malpractice.
Sadly, Illinois has garnered negative national attention based on police misconduct. But claims based on injuries from the police can be harder to win than medical malpractice cases. Because of legal protections known as “qualified immunity,” it’s not enough to prove that an officer was negligent or at fault for your injuries. Instead, you must demonstrate that their conduct was “willful and wanton” and they had no legitimate law enforcement reason for their actions.
Additionally, Illinois has a Uniform Peace Officers’ Disciplinary Act, also known as the “Police Officer Bill of Rights,” which can make investigations and lawsuits against cops even more difficult. Injury claims against police officers and departments are not impossible, however, they will require the help of an expert attorney.
Negligence, when it comes to personal injury claims, is far different than just saying someone wasn’t careful and that they caused your injury. There are four main elements to the standard negligence claim, and you need to prove each of them to succeed:
For instance, your landlord has a duty to maintain your apartment complex and ensure the premises are safe for tenants and their guests. If they know about and fail to fix a set of stairs, they have breached that duty. This breach could cause an injury if you fall on a broken stair. And damages for your injuries, though hopefully minor, could include your medical bills and any time you couldn’t work.
Illinois is what’s known as a “modified comparative negligence” state, by which courts will compare your negligence against the other party’s. Using the example above, if you were drinking before you fell on the apartment stairs, a jury could reduce your compensation by a percentage of your fault. So, if a couple drinks at a bar or restaurant made you 25 percent liable for the fall, you would only receive 75 percent of your damages. But, if you were so drunk that you were more than 50 percent at fault, you can’t recover anything.
We don’t want lawsuits hanging over someone’s head for years. And we don’t want witnesses to try and recall an accident ten years after the fact. So, each state limits the amount of time that can pass after an injury before a plaintiff must pursue legal action against a defendant or lose the chance forever.
Illinois’s statutes of limitations generally bar personal injury claims after two years. However, you only have one year to file a claim based on libel or slander, and you have five years to recover for damage to your personal property.
Normally, the “clock” starts ticking at the time of the injury. However, in some cases, it may not begin until you discover the injury. So, you may have more time to file a medical malpractice claim if you didn’t realize your doctor did something wrong until three years after the surgery. But you can’t bring a medical malpractice claim in Illinois more than six years after the fact.
“Damages” is legalese for quantifiable harm for which you can receive compensation. And there are different types of damages in personal injury cases. Economic damages are those that hurt your bank account: medical bills, lost wages, property damage, etc. Non-economic damages are harder to define and include harm like pain and suffering and emotional distress. Some states limit the type of damages available in personal injury cases or place a cap on the amount of damages you might receive.
The Illinois Supreme Court, however, held that most damages caps are unconstitutional. Therefore, courts allow pain and suffering damages in personal injury claims, and only limit them to $100,000 in most claims against the state.
Between statutes of limitation, differing negligence standards, and proving fault, injury claims can be legally complicated. That’s why an experienced personal injury lawyer can help. If you’re being pressured to settle an injury claim, your claim was denied, or, heaven forbid, someone claims you caused their injuries, you’re going to want to consult with an attorney.
Injuries cost money, including time away from work, medical bills, and other complications. Before taking legal action or trying to negotiate a settlement on your own, you should talk to an attorney about your case. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local personal injury attorney to discuss the merits of your case. This one step can level the playing field, help you protect your rights, and put you in the best position for recovering the compensation that you deserve.