Being in a car accident is a disruptive experience with many physical, financial, and emotional consequences. In the aftermath of getting in a crash, filing a compensation claim is a huge priority, especially if you have had severe injuries or your vehicle needs a lot of repairs. Illinois is an at-fault state, which means the driver who bears more responsibility for causing the accident is liable. Their car insurance policy will pay damages to everyone else involved.
Most car accident claims resolve without going to court. The cases that do end up in a court trial usually have extenuating circumstances, such as a significant dispute about what happened.
Why Most Car Accidents Settle Before the Trial?
Litigating a court trial is a costly and drawn-out process that both insurance companies and car accident victims would rather avoid. Both sides have a strong incentive to negotiate directly without involving the court system. One thing is for sure: insurance companies will always try to minimize payouts if they can, and it is essential to have legal representation during the negotiation process.
As long as you have a skilled car accident attorney that can negotiate fair compensation on your behalf, accepting a settlement offer has many benefits over going through a trial, such as:
Getting Compensation More Quickly
Victims of a serious car accident will often be dealing with major financial pressure from hospital bills, lost wages from not being able to work during recovery from injuries, and a damaged vehicle. That means they are looking to recover compensation quickly, take care of their financial responsibilities, and move on from the accident. While negotiating a settlement can take months, it is still a much faster process than waiting for a court date, going through the trial, and potentially dealing with an appeal.
Settlements Cause Less Stress Than Going to Court
All trials are emotionally-draining and contentious, especially when a substantial amount of money is on the line or they dispute what happened during the accident. Insurance companies have a fleet of attorneys who will do everything possible to lower the judgment award, often by blaming the victim. Most people are intimidated by the proceedings of a trial, especially having to go on the witness stand.
Less Unpredictable Than The Trial Process
Accepting the insurance company's offer is often easier than recovering the funds a court trial awards you. The defendant may appeal, which could take several more months to unfold.
There are also situations where the judgment award is higher than the amount available from the at-fault driver's insurance policy. If the defendant does not have any financial assets that can make up the difference, car accident victims would have very few options for collecting the total amount. They may need to pay the high legal fees of litigating a court trial, but would not necessarily recover more than the insurance company's settlement offer.
Knowing the Value of Your Car Accident Claim
While settling with the at-fault driver's insurance company is often the best option, that does not mean victims should accept a lowball offer. Getting fair compensation for your damages from the accident is just as important as avoiding an unnecessary trial. An experienced car accident attorney can determine the extent of your damages, prepare a solid case, and argue for a settlement offer that reflects the fair value of your claim.
The damages you can claim from the accident will include elements like:
- The income you have lost from having to take time off from work
- Any past and future expenses that relate to the crash
- The cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle
- Any intangible costs you suffered from the accident, like pain and suffering
How Your Car Insurance Attorney Negotiates a Fair Settlement
A reasonable attorney will approach negotiations with the at-fault driver's insurance company as if preparing the case for a court trial. Having solid evidence and persuasive arguments makes a difference in helping car accident victims receive a reasonable offer.
The essential steps your attorney takes during the settlement process will include:
- Investigate all available evidence: Your car accident attorney's team will review the crash from every angle using resources like the police report, photos and videos taken of the scene, witness statements, and the physical damage left on each vehicle.
- Hire experts to analyze the case: The testimony of car accident reconstructionists can substantiate your attorney's arguments about the circumstances surrounding the crash. Medical professionals can provide evidence of the costs and consequences of the victim's injuries.
- Send the insurance company a demand letter: This document begins the settlement negotiation process. Your attorney will craft a persuasive demand letter that accounts for your damages from the accident, including medical costs and lost wages.
- Negotiate and send counter offers: The insurance company's initial offer will often be too low to account for the plaintiff's damages. You should expect to engage in a series of counter-offers. Settlement negotiations imply that if the car accident victim does not get a fair offer, they will escalate the case to a court trial, so this is one of the main negotiation tactics throughout the car settlement process. If the insurer never makes a reasonable offer, then it becomes much more likely that a court will hear the case.
The Types of Car Accidents Cases That Do Reach a Court Trial
While most car accident claims get resolved through the negotiation process, sometimes the two sides cannot meet in the middle. Taking a case to trial is expensive and comes with some potential risks, but there are also scenarios when it is the best option for obtaining fair compensation. Some of these situations include:
Accidents That Cause Catastrophic Injuries
Severe car crashes can lead to life-changing injuries such as spine trauma, traumatic brain injury, or limb amputation. These disabling, permanent injuries are called catastrophic because of all the disruption they cause.
Car accident victims with a catastrophic injury will have very substantial damages that may include:
- Lost income, Permanently Reduced Earning Capacity, or Full disability: Catastrophic injuries will often require victims to take time off from work during their recovery, switch to a different job that does not pay as much, or leave the workforce altogether.
- Lifelong medical expenses: The health challenges from having a catastrophic injury will typically go far beyond the immediate aftermath of a car accident. Victims may need long-term treatments like physical therapy, pain management, assistive mobility devices, home health aides, and other expensive medical services.
- Considerable Non-Economic Damages: Catastrophic injuries are mentally and emotionally devastating because victims likely will not be able to return to their everyday life before the accident. The challenges of having a disability will include a loss of independence, not being able to enjoy certain activities, and having an overall lower quality of life. Catastrophic injuries will often lead to serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Car accident cases involving catastrophic injuries are more likely to reach the trial stage because they are so disruptive and cause severe damage. If the insurance company's offer does not sufficiently cover the victim's losses, filing a lawsuit may become the best recourse.
Car Accident Cases Where the Defendant Is a Business
Employers can be held vicariously liable for the negligent actions of their employees under the law. If the at-fault driver in a serious car crash was out on the road as part of their work duties during the accident, such as long-haul truckers or delivery drivers, their employer is likely to be held responsible.
Car accident cases that involve a commercial defendant are more likely to reach the court stage, especially if there are severe injuries. Businesses usually have more resources and higher insurance policy limits. If the settlement offer does not reflect the victim's damages fairly, then it makes more sense to escalate the claim into a lawsuit.
In these cases, the victim's attorney will also look for any evidence that the company created the conditions for their employee to crash, such as:
- Hiring someone without the proper commercial driving credentials or with a documented history of violating traffic laws
- Allowing employees to work an excessive number of hours and drive while fatigued
- In the case of vehicle malfunctions, not providing the vehicle with proper maintenance or inspections
Suppose there is evidence that the company was not just liable for the crash but also had a pattern of reckless behavior that ignored public safety. In that case, the judge or jury can award the victim punitive damages. You can only pursue this compensation in a court trial, and it punishes the defendant for negligence.
A Complicated Crash With Disputed Liability
Illinois follows a modified comparative negligence system for recovering compensation. That means drivers that are found more than 50 percent liable for causing the accident are not eligible to have their damages covered. If either side disputes the circumstances of the crash or a considerable amount of money is at stake, the chances of a car accident ending up in court will increase.
The Victim Insists on Taking the Case to Trial
Some victims of a serious car crash will want to pursue a court trial for emotional or psychological reasons. They may feel that presenting their case to a judge will help them recover more compensation than accepting the settlement offer, even if this strategy goes against their attorney's advice.
Some victims also want the closure of going through an official trial where they can testify about the consequences of the accident. Depending on the details of your case and the best options available, an attorney will try to persuade clients not to pursue a trial if it is not worth the risks and expenses.
What Happens When a Car Accident Goes To Trial
Even though it is not a very likely scenario, you should choose a car accident attorney with the skills to litigate your case in court and help you have the best possible outcome.
Here is what you can expect if your car accident lawsuit goes to a judge or jury.
- Discovery: Before the trial, both legal teams can request documents from each other, submit questions that witnesses must answer in a deposition, and gather other evidence to bolster their argument.
- Jury Selection: If your case gets assigned to a jury trial, the two legal teams will coordinate to select the jury panel.
- Opening Statements: The trial begins with both sides presenting their main arguments about what happened during the accident and its aftermath.
- Presenting the case: Both legal teams will examine witnesses and introduce evidence, such as medical records and photos from the accident.
- Closing Arguments: The case concludes, the judge or jury deliberates, and the judgment gets announced.
Keep in mind that the settlement negotiations can continue throughout the trial, right up until the verdict is read, so you still have the option of agreeing with the insurance company. Car accidents that reach the stage of a court trial are still very likely to be resolved with the plaintiff accepting a settlement offer.
Hiring a Car Accident Attorney
Taking your car accident case to trial is usually not worth the effort, and it is also something most car accident victims prefer to avoid, which is why it is relatively rare. A skilled car accident attorney by your side will always represent your best interests, whether at the negotiation table or in a court of law.