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How Driver Negligence in Car Accidents is Determined in Court

woman sitting beside her car holding her head and a police office was looking at her

Proving driver negligence in car accidents is a complex process. Sorting through fault in court can greatly affect the financial outcome of a victim’s claim. In Illinois, a modified comparative negligence structure-referred to as contributory fault, is an influencing factor in the award amount a claimant can receive. A car accident lawyer can review a victim’s case, navigate the fault determination process, and help claimants fight for a fair award.

What is negligence? In any auto, truck, bus or other kinds of on-road collision, it is an act or failure to act that causes an accident. Negligence is failure to follow the rules of the road, which might include running a stop sign, failure to yield, driving too fast, driving under the influence, driving inappropriately for weather conditions or allowing someone else to drive who is not licensed or otherwise capable of driving.

One question often posed to accident attorneys in Chicago and its suburbs is, “If a licensed teenager has an accident with the parents’ car and is at fault (negligent), are the parents liable?” The answer is that in Illinois, a parent who allows a teen to drive within the rules of licensing is not responsible for their child’s negligent driving unless the child was driving on a family errand or for a family business purpose (the “agency theory”).

Can You Sue for Negligence in a Car Accident?

Negligence in car accidents might be shared among various drivers. The theory of comparative negligence assesses the fault of all drivers involved in a collision based on their individual responsibility for the accident. In other words, sometimes two or more drivers were in error, and their cumulate mistakes caused the accident to happen or increased its severity.

In Illinois, the law follows a more specific modified comparative negligence standard, which means an injured party cannot recover damages from the other party if the driver with injuries was more than 50 percent responsible. For example, if driver A was driving at a speed above the posted limit and driver B made a left turn from the oncoming direction into driver A’s path, a judge may need to determine which of the two bore more than 50 percent of the cause of damage and injuries. That usually means calling in expert witnesses who can attest to what driver A’s speed was and by means of physical analysis determine if and to what degree that speed made the injuries. Attorneys for car accidents typically work with expert witnesses with very specific scientific knowledge of auto crashes.

When a claimant carries a percentage of fault for the accident, his or her award amount is reduced by this percentage of fault. This means that if a claimant was 20 percent at fault, and received a $10,000 in damages, his or her settlement would be reduced by $2000.

A third party to share negligence might also be the state, county, or city responsible for maintaining the road. If streetlights were out, if the pavement was in poor condition, or if a construction site was improperly managed, and one of those factors increased the severity of the accident, the government entity found to be responsible can also be a defendant in the case.

Which suggests something important: Retain legal counsel soon after the accident, including auto accident lawyers who have experience accessing qualified expert witnesses. In some circumstances, fast action can mean the difference between recovering losses and recovering nothing.

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