Whose fault is it? How to determine liability in Illinois Car Accidents.

Car accidents are almost always just that...an accident.  Just because it was an accident, however, doesn't mean that no one is at fault for the collision or that the at-fault driver shouldn't be held liable for someone else's injuries and damages.  Determining who is at fault in a car wreck can be blatantly obvious or it can be a little tricky.  This article will help you figure out who is at fault for a car accident, but no blog can replace the advice of an attorney who has had the opportunity to review the facts of your case so please, when in doubt, call us so we can give you an answer you can take to the bank!

The Rules of the Road in Illinois govern the conduct of drivers.  If someone violates one of those rules and a collision occurs, then they are most-likely at fault for the crash.  When we file a lawsuit we list each rule we think the other driver broke as the basis for liability.  While a violation of the rules almost always can be cited to as the cause of a collision, a driver can be held at fault for not using reasonable care while driving - in other words, even if no rules are broken, a collision caused by the negligence of a driver is the fault of that driver.

Quick Tips

On police report (Illinois Traffic Crash Report) the driver believed to be most at-fault by the responding police officer is usually listed as Unit 1.

If a ticket is issued for one of the vehicles in the collision for a moving violation that resulted in the car accident (e.g. failure to reduce speed to avoid a collision, failing to yield, etc.) the ticketed driver is usually the one at fault for the car accident.  A ticket for no insurance or expired registration is not relevant in determining liability because neither of those things could be considered a cause of the accident.

The issuance of a citation is likely not going to be admissible at trial, but if the at-fault driver pleads guilty then it is admissible to help establish liability (even though it is hearsay it can be admissible as a statement against one's interests, one of many exceptions to the rules prohibiting hearsay).

Determining Fault Based on Accident Type

Rear Ender

The rear car in a rear-ender collision is almost always 100% at fault for the collision.  There are some cases where the front car stops suddenly and has been found to be partially at fault, but even then the rear car should have left enough room between it and the front car so it could stop in time to avoid the collision and so the rear car is still primarily responsible.

Turning Vehicle

A turning vehicle is almost always primarily responsible for a collision.  A driver conducting a turn has to first make sure it is safe to turn before doing so.  If the non-turning car is speeding, or changes lanes without warning, or something along those lines then the non-turning car could be considered partially or primarily at fault. 

One very common liability conundrum we see is a left-turner who waits to turn left in the middle of an intersection, the light turns red, and so the left-turner turns left.  At the same time a car accelerates through the intersection and the two cars collide.  Both vehicles are running a red light.  The left-turner would probably be found to be at least 50% at fault for this collision since a larger duty of care is imposed on a turning vehicle.

Sideswipe or Lane Change

A driver may only change lanes after first determining it is safe to do so. This means that a driver who changes lanes is usually going to be the at-fault driver of a sideswipe collision when compared to a driver who didn't conduct a lane change at the time of the accident.  Sideswipe collision can be very difficult to pursue because they often come down to a "he said, she said," situation.  An independent witness can break the tie and help establish fault.  If you are sideswiped, get the contact info or licensed plate of a vehicle/person who witnessed your crash so they can help ensure the correct driver is identified as being at fault.

Contributory Negligence

More than one driver can be the cause of a car accident.  If a plaintiff is determined to be more than 50% at fault for the collision then they are not entitled to recover any of their damages.  Any fault attributed to the plaintiff less than 50% reduces a jury's verdict by that amount.  For instance, the jury returns a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $100,000.00 but says that the plaintiff is 40% at fault for the collision - in that case, the plaintiff's award is reduced by 40%, or $40,000.00 and is only awarded $60,000.00.  Similarly, more than one defendant can be liable for a collision.  If a driver is more than 25% at fault for a car accident then he is jointly and severally liable for all of the plaintiff's damages, meaning the plaintiff can collect all or some of its damages from that defendant leaving the defendants to work out who has reimburse whom and how much.  If a defendant is less than 25% at fault, then that defendant is responsible only for the economic damages (medical bills, lost wages, etc.) and only responsible for its percentage of responsibility for non-economic damages (pain and suffering, loss of a normal life, disfigurement, etc.)

The best way to know who is at fault for a car accident in Illinois is to contact us for 

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