Personal Injury Frequently Asked Questions
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by the negligence of another, you may have many questions about the process necessary to be compensated for your injuries. Below are answers to some of the questions most frequently encountered by the personal injury attorneys at Johnson, Westra, Broecker, Whittaker & Newitt as they advise and represent individuals who have been injured in Illinois car and truck accidents, or due to a defective product or a slip and fall on dangerous property. If you have been injured and need legal help, contact us at our offices in Carol Stream, St. Charles and Chicago.
I was hit by a driver who ran a stop sign, but the insurance company says they won’t pay because I was going over the speed limit at the time. Can they do that?
This sounds like a situation where both parties may be considered negligent. Under Illinois law, an injured plaintiff cannot recover any compensation from the other party if he or she is 50% or more to blame in causing the accident. Based on the limited facts you described, it would appear that the other driver is mostly to blame in this case, even if you shouldn’t have been speeding. It is worthwhile to discuss your case with an experienced personal injury attorney. The insurance company does not have the final say on who was negligent and how much. If you do not agree with the insurance company, you can go to court, and a judge or jury will decide any issues of comparative negligence at trial. If you are found to be less than 50% at fault, you can recover damages, although the amount of your award may be reduced proportionately by the percentage of blame allocated to you.
How long do I have to file a lawsuit?
In most cases of personal injury or wrongful death, you have up to two years from the date of the accident or death to file a lawsuit. If you wait too long, the court may dismiss your case and not allow you to collect any compensation. It is important to contact a lawyer as soon as possible after an injury to make sure you do not miss any deadlines. The time can go by quickly while you are busy recovering, dealing with paperwork and getting back on your feet, and dealing with ongoing settlement negotiations, which may drag on past the deadline to file. Also, the applicable statute of limitations may be longer or shorter than two years, depending upon certain factors, such as when the injury was discovered, if the plaintiff was a minor at the time, or if the defendant was a public employee or government agency. Having an experienced personal injury attorney advise you will help ensure your case is filed in a timely and appropriate manner.
What is a contingency fee?
A contingency fee is a way for an individual who was harmed by the negligence of another to obtain high-quality legal representation, without having to worry about how to pay for the litigation. With a contingency fee arrangement, the lawyer agrees not to charge a fee unless and until a recovery is obtained for the client, whether through settlement or at trial. If there is no recovery, there is no fee. The lawyer’s fee is charged as a percentage of the recovery and is paid out of the settlement or judgment, so the client needn’t worry about how to pay the fee. Often times, attorneys working on a contingent fee basis will also advance all of the costs of the lawsuit, including expert witness fees, deposition fees, accident reconstruction, court costs and filing fees, and the myriad other expenses that may be required to successfully maintain a lawsuit against negligent defendants and their insurance company lawyers. These expenses can be paid out of the settlement or judgment, so the client never has to pay out of pocket to pursue the litigation.
In Illinois, a contingency fee must be in writing, and the percentage to be collected must be reasonable. The contingency fee agreement must set out the percentage to be collected in the event of settlement, trial or appeal, and it must state whether or not expenses are deducted before or after the fee is calculated. The agreement must also show whether the client is liable for any expenses whether or not the attorney is successful.
What are punitive damages?
Punitive damages are sometimes awarded to punish a defendant for particularly bad behavior and to discourage others from behaving in the same manner. Punitive damages may be appropriate when the defendant was not just negligent but acted intentionally to do harm or was outrageously reckless and indifferent to the risk of harm he or she was creating. A jury can award up to three times the amount of actual, economic damages (medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, etc.) as punitive damages. Punitive damages are held to a higher standard than other facts in the case and are therefore difficult to prove, but where appropriate our lawyers seek punitive damages to make an example out of the defendant and maximize the compensation for our client.