Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

Personal injury claims arising out of car accidents usually involve acts of negligence, and they often involve multiple parties. For example, there may be allegations that a driver failed to obey traffic laws, failed to drive safely considering the conditions, or failed to properly maintain the vehicle’s brakes. There also may be allegations that a driver was negligent in responding to another driver’s actions or violated a traffic rule or law.

Multi-Car AccidentDepending on the circumstances surrounding an accident, if a driver violated a statute, ordinance, or traffic regulation, it may be considered negligence per se. If so, the driver’s conduct may give rise to a rebuttable presumption of negligence, or it may be considered evidence of negligence. In cases involving multiple parties, each party’s actions may come under scrutiny, potentially reducing the plaintiff’s compensation.

Comparative Negligence

Traditionally, under a different doctrine called contributory negligence, if a plaintiff was found to be partially at fault, the plaintiff could not recover any compensation from the defendant. However, today Illinois follows the doctrine of modified comparative negligence. Under the doctrine of comparative fault, or comparative negligence, a plaintiff’s recovery may be reduced by their own percentage of fault.

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Many car accidents are caused by a driver’s negligence. Often, these accidents involve the negligent driver not paying attention to the road and rear-ending the vehicle in front of them. According to recent statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), rear-end collisions account for the majority of all motor vehicle accidents, comprising about 33 percent of all crashes.

Red RoseRear-end collisions are simply defined as collisions in which one vehicle collides with the rear of another vehicle. Across the country, over 2,000 rear-end collisions resulted in a fatality, and over 500,000 resulted in an injury. In Illinois, if another driver is to blame, an accident victim may recover damages from any defendant who was more at fault than they were in causing the accident.

Bachelor Star Charged with Causing Fatal Accident and Fleeing the Scene

According to one news source, a former star of the T.V. series “The Bachelor” has been charged with causing a traffic accident that killed a driver and fleeing the scene. Allegedly, the reality show star was driving a pickup truck at around 8 p.m. on a Monday evening in Iowa and rear-ended a tractor. The tractor then rolled over and fell in a ditch. The reality star’s truck fell in a ditch on the opposite side of the road. The tractor driver, a farmer, was taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 66 years old and is survived by his wife, two sons, and three grandchildren.

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In a recent case, the plaintiff brought a personal injury claim against another driver and his company after he was injured in a car accident. The case proceeded to trial, and a jury found in favor of the plaintiff. The jury awarded him $84,283 in economic damages and $40,000 in noneconomic damages.

Car AccidentThe defendants argued the award should be reduced, since the plaintiff paid only $1,941 toward his medical expenses, and his insurance had paid the rest. Initially, the trial court agreed and reduced the award to $24,299. It took the original economic damages award and reduced it by the cost to secure the collateral source benefits of approximately $58,000, resulting in the award of $24,299.

However, the state’s supreme court reversed the case on appeal and held the plaintiff’s award should not have been reduced. The court explained that normally, a state statute allowed an award to be reduced if the expenses were paid by another source. But the court further explained that this rule did not apply if the other payer was entitled to reimbursement from the plaintiff. Since in this case, the insurance company had a right to be reimbursed, even if only for a portion of the amount, the award should not have been reduced.

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In a recent case, a plaintiff brought a claim against a city after he was hit by another driver. The man was hit after a woman failed to stop at a stop sign and crashed into his car. The man filed a lawsuit against the woman for negligence, alleging she was negligent in failing to stop. He also alleged the city was negligent for failing to make sure the stop sign was visible.

Stop SignThe woman claimed she did not see the stop sign because it was blocked by a tree, and a police officer who was at the scene also found the stop sign was significantly obstructed. After the man brought the claim, the court granted summary judgment and dismissed the city from the case, finding the city had immunity. The man appealed the decision.

That state’s supreme court reversed the decision and found the city did not have immunity. The man argued the city was liable under a state statute as a local government entity that negligently failed to keep public roads in repair or negligently failed to remove obstructions from public roads. The statute defined a “public road” as a public road, highway, street, avenue, alley, or bridge, but it generally did not include a shoulder, right-of-way, or traffic control device, unless the traffic control device was mandated by the “Ohio manual of uniform traffic control devices.”

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Earlier this month, a California appellate court issued an opinion in a pedestrian accident case, reversing a lower court decision that had declined to apply governmental design immunity. In the case, Gonzales v. City of Atwater, the appellate court found that all three elements of governmental design immunity were met by the defendant, the city that had designed and constructed the intersection where the accident giving rise to the case had occurred.

CrosswalkGovernment Immunity in General

In all 50 states, government immunity exists in some circumstances to limit a government’s exposure to liability after accidents. The motivating thought behind government immunity is to prevent a government from getting bogged down in defending lawsuits related to the normal functions that a government must carry out on a routine basis. Government immunity does not apply in every situation in which a government employee or entity causes an injury. However, governmental immunity is a hurdle that most personal injury plaintiffs must face when naming a state, local, or federal government as a defendant. A recent case illustrates this concept.

Gonzales v. City of Atwater:  The Facts

Gonzales was killed while crossing the street in an intersection in Atwater, California. Gonzales’ loved ones filed a lawsuit against both the driver of the vehicle that struck him and the City of Atwater. After a jury trial, it was determined that the driver who struck Gonzales was not at fault for the accident, but the City of Atwater was liable. The jury returned a verdict of $3.2 million.

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Following the court rules may seem like a basic concept, but failing to follow them can have a devastating impact in a case. A recent case demonstrates how an attorney’s oversight almost resulted in the permanent dismissal of a case.

GavelA woman sued the Greyhound bus company after she was injured on a Greyhound bus. The woman claimed the driver was driving too fast, and as a result, the driver hit two other cars and crashed into a tree. Greyhound made a motion to move the case to another county because the accident occurred in that county, and most of the defendants were domiciled there. The court granted the motion and agreed to have the case moved. The court also ordered the woman to pay the transfer fees for moving the case.

Greyhound sent a notice to the woman, asking to have the transfer fees paid, but the woman did not respond. The court required the transfer fees to be paid within 30 days, or the case could be dismissed. After the woman failed to pay the transfer fees within 30 days, Greyhound moved to dismiss the case. The court granted the motion, based on the woman’s failure to pay the fees.

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In a recent case, a passenger sued after she was injured in a car accident. A man had bought his fiancée a van for her birthday. On her birthday, the couple was drinking with some friends, and the man gathered the friends in the van. He then drove the van and crashed it, causing one of the passengers serious injuries. The passenger received compensation for her injuries from the man’s insurance, but she said the amount she received did not cover her injuries and made an additional claim for underinsured motorist benefits. Since the man’s coverage did not cover her expenses, she claimed he was “underinsured,” so she should receive underinsured motorist benefits from her insurance policy and from the driver’s fiancée’s policy.

Crashed Car

The insurance company denied the claim at first. The passenger then sued the insurance company, claiming the company unreasonably denied her claim or delayed in paying her. The insurance company eventually paid her additional compensation. However, the passenger still claimed the insurance company unreasonably denied or delayed payment—essentially stating that the company acted in bad faith in doing so.

A federal trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company, finding it did not unreasonably deny or delay payment. But the passenger appealed, and a federal appeals court reversed the decision, deciding a reasonable jury could find the insurance company failed to reasonably investigate her claim.

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In a recent case, a boy and his parents brought a lawsuit against school officials after he was hit by a car at his school’s driveway on his way to school. The school was located near a highway, and the school’s entrance was busy around the opening and dismissal times during school days. There was no traffic light or person directing traffic at the intersection of the driveway. The boy alleged the superintendent, principals, assistant principals, and others negligently supervised school staff and students during school hours. The defendants claimed they were shielded from liability through governmental immunity.

School BusThe state’s supreme court found certain defendants were shielded by immunity. However, the court found the assistant principals could be held liable because they may have breached their duty to assign school staff to supervise students during school hours. One of the assistant principals had been responsible for assigning school staff members to supervise student duties throughout the school. However, the school could not produce the names of people who were assigned to “bus duty” on the day of the accident or during the two weeks before the accident.

The court explained that municipal employees are immune from liability for “discretionary” acts but not “ministerial” acts (those performed in a prescribed manner without the exercise of judgment or discretion). Considering this, the court found it was not clear the assistant principals had satisfied their ministerial duties because the assistant principals’ duties included not only preparing the bus duty assignments but also distributing the assignments to staff. Here, it was not clear they created and distributed the bus duty assignments. As a result, there was a “genuine issue of material fact” as to whether they breached their duties.

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Usually, when an accident occurs, the injured person will seek compensation from the person at fault for causing the injury. However, when an employee was at fault, the employer may be responsible for the injury, even when the employee was not technically “on the job.”

HighwayIn a recent case in a federal court of appeals, an employee working for the federal government borrowed a car from his employer without receiving explicit permission before doing so. The employee drove the car back to his hotel, where he had been staying for work. On his way back, the employee was in a car accident, and another driver was seriously injured. The injured driver brought a claim against the employee as well as against the government.

The government moved to dismiss the case, arguing that the employee was acting outside the scope of his employment when the accident occurred. The employee was working in another city and staying at a hotel there. He was using a government car during work hours, but he was typically using his personal car after work. Yet he was not forbidden from using the government car outside work hours, and he was permitted to take the car back to the hotel overnight if he first obtained approval from his supervisor.

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In a recent case decided by a state appellate court, a husband and wife were injured in a car accident with another motorist. After the accident, they filed suit against the motorist for their physical injuries, mental suffering, lost wages, and lost employment. However, the motorist failed to defend or respond to the lawsuit. As a result, after four months had passed, the couple filed an application for an entry of default against the motorist, and the clerk of the court entered a default judgment against him. Seven months after the complaint was filed, the motorist responded by filing a motion to set aside the default judgment. The court denied his motion to set aside the entry of default and entered a default judgment in favor of the couple for over $3 million.

Car CrashThe motorist appealed. He argued that the court abused its discretion by refusing to set aside the default judgment. That state’s supreme court found that since default judgments are considered under a liberal standard, the court did abuse its discretion by refusing to set aside the entry of default. It noted that the motorist had seemingly valid defenses to the claim. In addition, the couple would suffer limited prejudice by reopening the case because they filed the claim three years after the actual accident and were still litigating the case with two insurance companies. For these reasons, the default judgment was set aside, and the case was reopened.

Default Judgments and Illinois Rules

A default judgment is a ruling that results from one party’s failure to comply with the requirements of the court. A default judgment is binding on a party even if the person has never appeared in the case. That means that even if a defendant never appeared in court in a case against them, the other party can collect compensation. However, even if a default judgment has been entered against a party, they can file a motion to set aside the judgment and reopen the case.

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