Articles Posted in Car Accidents

People injured in accidents in Illinois frequently hire an attorney recommended by a friend or who advertises on TV. The lawyer retained will sometimes have little or no jury trial experience-this question should always be asked before retaining the attorney. Oftentimes the client becomes unhappy with the lawyer-lack of communication, attorney lacks the required experience, lawyer referring case out to another lawyer, and many more. Whatever the reason you are entitled to consult with another attorney for a second opinion. I have successfully represented injured victims and their families in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits in Illinois state courts and federal courts throughout the United States for over 30 years.

On the occasions that I have been contacted for a second opinion the most common questions posed are: Is it possible to change lawyers?-the answer is YES, What will it cost to change lawyers?-the answer is often NOTHING, and Will it hurt my ability to collect full compensation?-the answer normally is NO. Remember that if you suffered injuries as a result of the fault of another you will only get one opportunity to obtain full and fair compensation and unless you have a mutual relationship of trust and respect with your lawyer it is unlikely that your goals will be achieved. It is a fundamental right of every client to discharge his/her attorney and hire another attorney and this decision must be respected by the discharged attorney.

All cases present unique factual and legal issues and we offer free consultation to discuss your case. I take pride in guaranteeing that I will be present with you at all times during the lawsuit from initial consultation, depositions, pretrial conferences, the jury trial, and any appeals that may follow. You will not be referred to another lawyer or firm nor will a young associate handle your case. I remain with my clients all the way through the litigation process. This is important because I have numerous significant verdicts for my clients in personal injury and wrongful death actions including many multi million dollar verdicts. The insurance companies and their lawyers know this-and this significantly increases your opportunity to receive full compensation. Should you so choose feel free to contact Edmund Scanlan toll free at 877-494-1309 for a free telephone or office consultation.

Recently I settled an Illinois traumatic brain injury lawsuit immediately before trial for $800,000. This case was complicated by the fact that the 19 year old male passenger in a car struck by a truck pulling off a stop sign actually signed a release settling his claim with the claims adjustor for $3,250 a few weeks after the accident. About nine months later the young man’s behavior changed radically and he was ultimately admitted to a mental health center with a diagnosis of major depression, and he has and will remain in an inpatient facility for the rest of his life. Suit was filed shortly after his family suspected that he may have suffered a brain injury in the accident, but that the brain injury did not manifest itself until several months following the accident. Defendants filed motion to dismiss on the basis of the release, which was initially granted, but case was transferred to another judge who ruled that a factual issue remained whether there was a mutual mistake of fact.

The main issue in this case was whether there was a mutual mistake of fact at the time the release was signed. I deposed the claims adjustor who testified that she did not contemplate a brain injury at the time of settlement and that her analysis only took into account that the plaintiff had twelve stitches to his head in the accident. The plaintiff also testified that he only felt he had a cut to his head in the accident at the time he signed the release. Four years after the accident a brain injury specialist diagnosed him as having a traumatic brain injury. He testified convincingly that plaintiff was not suffering from depression or schizophrenia, but rather had sustained a traumatic brain injury in the auto accident.

A few months before trial was scheduled to begin I filed a motion for partial summary judgment alleging that there was a mutual mistake of fact that voided the release. In Scherer v. Ravenswood Hospital, 70 Ill. App. 3d 939, 947, 388 N.E. 2d 1268, 1274 (1979) the court stated: “Where…the evidence reveals an injury involving such pervasive damage as permanent mental retardation, resulting from cerebral dysfunction; the settlement is in an amount significantly disparate to the seriousness of the injury; and the injury is an unanticipated, extraordinary complication, then a mutual mistake of fact has been clearly and convincingly proven which, if allowed to stand, will result in an unconscionable hardship to plaintiff.”

Illinois car accident attorneys should be aware of two recent opinions which expand the rights of injured parties to recover in uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist claims: (1) Uninsured Motorist claimsNicholson v. State Farm Ins. Co., 2010 WL 1208887 (Ill. App. Ct. 2nd Dist.) released March 23, 2010.
(2) Undersinsured Motorist claimsSchultz v. Illinois Farmers Ins. Co., 2010 WL 966206 ( Ill. Sup. Ct.) released March 18, 2010.

In Nicholson, the issue was whether an Illinois insurer has to offer uninsured motorist coverage in an amount equal to liability coverage that an insured has elected to increase or whether an earlier rejection of higher limits exempts the insurer from this statutory requirement. Essentially in Nicholson an insured elected to increase his liability coverage and the insurered failed to get a written rejection of equal limits for uninsured motorist coverage as is required by 215 ILCS 5/143a-2(1). This section establishes the general rule that no automobile liability insurance policy “shall be renewed or delivered or issued in this State” unless UM coverage equivalent to the liability coverage is included, “unless specifically rejected by the insured.”

The Nicholson court stated: “(t)he language, with its statement that the rule applies to policies that are renewed and its references to the insured, clearly expresses a legislative intent to include current policyholders, not just first-time applicants, within the statute’s ambit.” State Farm argued that 215 ILCS5/143a-2(2) sets out an exception to the rule requiring insurers to offer UM coverage equal to liability coverage and that the exception applies here because it states that equal coverage need not be provided in any “renewal, reinstatement, reissuance, substitute, amended, replacement or supplementary policy.” The Appellate Court conceded that the language contained in subparagraphs(1) and (2) “is somewhat ambiguous.”

The Nicholson court conclude that: ” We believe that a change in the level of coverage, with its attendant change in the premium cost, is a material change that results in a new policy rather than a mere continuation of the old policy….in light of these material changes, the defendant was required to once again offer…equal UM coverage and to obtain a rejection of that coverage before the Janotas their new policy.” The bottom line is that auto insurers in Illinois must offer and obtain a rejection of higher UM benefits when increasing an insureds liability coverage. Good news for victims seeking compensation for their injuries.
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Truck accident attorneys in Illinois and around the nation should be aware that the federal government formally barred truckers and bus drivers from sending text messages while operating a commercial motor vehicle, effective January 27, 2010. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) did not create a new regulation or a new law, but rather provided regulatory guidance. The FMCSA recently completed its “Driver Distraction in Commercial Vehicle Operations” study and released the final report on October 1, 2009. In this study the FMCSA found that: The most risky behavior identified by the research was “text message on cell phone,” with an odds ratio of 23.2. This means that the odds of being involved in a safety-critical event is 23.2 times greater for drivers who are texting while driving than for those who do not.

FMCSA has now provided regulatory guidance regarding 49 CFR 390.17 in an answer to the following question: Do the Federal Motor Carrier Regulations prohibit “texting” while driving a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce? FMCSA answered the question as follows: Yes……Research has shown that during 6-second intervals immediately preceding safety-critical events (e.g., crashes, near crashes, lane departure), texting drivers took their eyes off the forward roadway an average of 4.6 seconds. Therefore the use of electronic devices for texting by CMV operators while driving on public roads in interstate commerce decreases safety and is prohibited by 49 CFR 390.17.

Truck accident lawyers should now issue discovery and subpoenas in lawsuits to secure the operators cell phone records to determine if the driver was texting at or near the time of a collision. If appropriate the complaint should be amended to include a violation of 49 CFR 390.17. Illinois and about 19 other states also ban texting while driving. On January 1, 2010, Illinois’ law became effective and provides: A person may not operate a motor vehicle on a roadway while using an electronic communication device to compose, send, or read an electronic message, 625 ILCS 5/12-610.2. These state laws and 49 CFR 390.17 should be used in pursuing truck drivers and trucking companies for injuries in truck related crashes where driver attentiveness is the issue.

Illinois car and truck accident attorneys in investigating the causes of vehicular crashes should always consider the possibility that one of the drivers was texting, emailing or on a cell phone at the time of the colllision. In 2008, the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) published a study indicating that driving daylight hours 11% -or 1.8 million drivers-were on the cell phone.

The National Safety Council has called for a total ban on cellphone use while driving because their research showed more than 100 million people are engaged in this activity everyday and that cellphone use has caused 636,000 crashes, 330,000 injuries, 12,000 serious injuries, and 2,600 deaths each year.

Texting while driving has been found by a recent study by Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to result in a 23 times greater risk of a crash. An Illinois law passed earlier this month will ban: texting, emailing, or websurfing while driving. This law will become effective January 1, 2010. This is a step in the right direction! Cell phone use while driving should similarly be banned.

An Illinois Uninsured Motorist policy has been interpretted by the Appellate Court as providing coverage to a child living with his mother and her fiancee under the fiancee’s insurance policy in an opinion released July 25, 2008. Clayton v. Millers First Insurance Co., 2008 WL 2926874 (5-07-0061). The minor plaintiff was injured in a one car accident where the driver was uninsured and sought uninsured motorist benefits under his mother’s fiancee’s insurance policy. The insurance company denied coverage and a declaratory judgment action followed where the trial court granted the insurer’s motion for summary judgment holding that the child did not qualify as a “family member” under the fiancee’s policy. An appeal followed.

In the appeal the pertinent question was whether the minor plaintiff qualifies as a “family member” under the fiancee’s policy. The policy defined “family member” as follows: “….a person related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption who is a resident of your household. This includes a ward or foster child.” The plaintiff contended that the definition was ambiguous and that the term “ward” has several meanings.

The Clayton court discussed whether the term “ward” necessarily required court adjudication. The mother’s fiancee was never appointed as a guardian, the minor merly lived with him along with his mother. Citing Parks v. Kownacki, 305 Ill. App. 3d 449, 711 N.E. 2d 1208 (1999), rev’d on other ground, 193 Ill. 2d 164, 737 N.E. 2d 287 (2000), the Appellate Court held: “that the term ward could be used to describe a person despite no prior adjudication of that status.” Clayton, supra. The Appellate Court reversed the trial court’s granting of a summary judgment and held as a matter of law that the minor was entitled to uninsurance motorist benefits under his mother’s fiancee’s insurance policy. Read those policies carefully there may be more there than you think!

Illinois attorneys handling Underinsured Motorist Claims should be aware that there are setoffs that the insurance companies are claiming that need to be challenged. In a typical situation, plaintiff sustains serious injuries caused by the negligence of another driver. Plaintiff settles her claim for the policy limits of $100,000 from the negligent driver’s insurance company. Plaintiff makes a claim against her won insurance company for additional benefits under the underinsured motorist coverage of her own policy. Her insurance policy has limits of $300,000 for underinsurance motorist coverage. The plaintiff’s insurance company will routinely seek a credit for the full $100,000 paid by the neglligent driver’s insurance company, therby leaving only an additional $200,000 available to compensate the seriosly injured plaintiff.

The common fund doctrine allows a party that creates a fund from which others benefit to seek reimbursement from those other parties. Scholtens v. Schneider, 173 Ill. 2d 375, 671 N.E. 2d 657 (1996). The common fund doctrine most often appears in situations where an insurer obtains a recovery for medical expenses they paid through the plaintiff’s attorney’s efforts in securing the fund. However, the common fund doctrine is not limited to insurance subrogation cases. Chapman v. Kitzman, 193 Ill. 2d 560. 739 N.E. 2d 1263 (2000). The general requirements for applying the common fund doctrine are: (1) the fund for which fees are sought was created as a result of legal services performed by the plaintiff’s attorney, (2) the claimant of the fund did not participate in its creation, and (3) the claimant will benefit from the fund. Taylor v. State Universities Retiremement System, 203 Ill. App. 3d 513, 560 N.E. 2d 893 (1990).

In a very interesting partial concurrence and disssent Justice Chapman addresses the intersection of the common fund doctrine and underinsured motorist benefits and concludes that: “the common-fund doctrine is applicable.” James v. Western States Ins. Co., 335 Ill. App. 3d 1109, 1127, 738 N.E. 2d 37, 51(2001). Using the example above with the $100,000 settlement with negligent driver’s insurance company, the underinsured motorist policy of $300,000 would receive a credit of $66,666 ($100,000 minus $33,333 in fees or $66,666), instead of the full $100,000 credit. Using this approach achieves a $33,000 additional benefit to the client.

Tires older than 6 years old should not be used on motor vehicles since it can lead to tread separation and catastrophic failure. Since 2001 the British Rubber Manufactures Association (BRMA) have recommended: “BRMA members strongly recommend that unused tyres should not be put into service if they are over 6 years old and that all tyres should be replaced 10 years from the date of their manufacture.” This is incredible since BRMA includes all the tire manufacturers who also sell in the United States. No such warnings have been given by tire manufacturers and retailers to consumers in the United States. Retailing giants in the U.S. like Walmart and Sears routinely sell tires as new in their stores that are routinely older than 6 years and sometimes as old as 17 years. This is unconscionable!

Like any other rubber product, tires have a limited service life regardless of tread depth and use. Tire age can be determined through decoding of the required DOT number printed on the side of a tire, but it is of no help to consumers because you must know the code to interpret when the tire was manufactured. Experts that I have worked with say that tire age is a silent killer because a consumer can purchase a brand new tire from a reputable retailer or outlet and have no idea that at the time of purchase the tire is already defective.

Ford Motor Company added a 6 year tire replacement recommendation, regardless of tread wear, to all 2006 owner’s manuals. Finally, on June 2, 2008, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Consumer Advisory warning that aged tires, regardless of tread use, are subject to greater stress increasing the likelihood of catastrophic failure. Recent investigative reports point to corporate neglect and government inaction as the root cause of American consumers buying new tires that are defecive at the time of purchase.

An Illinois product liability verdict against Ford Motor and Mazda Motors for defective design of driver’s seat was affirmed, but the damage award of $27 million was reduced by an appellate court in Chicago on Nov. 22, 2006. On Feb. 4, 2000, decedent was a driver stopped at stoplight when he was rear ended by a drunk driver. On impact decedent’s seat flattened backwards and he was ejected toward the rear of the car causing injuries that led to his death three days later.

Decedent’s estate filed a product liability lawsuit in Chicago alleging that driver’s seat was defectively designed with inadequate strength making it unreasonably dangerous. The driver’s seat was co-designed by Ford and Mazda and was a “yielding seat” meaning that when force applied it yielded in the direction of the force. This “yielding seat” met federal safety standards. However, plaintiff’s expert testified that compliance with federal safety standards does not make a seat safe. Expert testimony revealed that a “rigid seat” transfers the energy forward in a rear end collision.

Estate expert witnesses testified the a “rigid seat” was feasible and would have protected decedent from his fatal injuries. Specifically, experts opined that risk of severe to fatal injuries was 10 to 25 times greater with a “yielding seat.”
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In a Chicago wrongful death action that asserted claims for underinsured motorist benefits, the Illinois Supreme Court interpreted whether the “per person” limits of liability or the “per occurrence” limits of liability applied to family members derivative claims. The Illinois Wrongful Death Act, 740 ILCS 180/2 states: “…every such action shall be for the exclusive benefit of the surviving spouse and next of kin of such deceased person…” Illinois courts have defined “next of kin” as those blood relatives of the decedent who are in existence at the time of the decedent’s death who would take the decedent’s property if the decedent had died intestate. Provena v. St. Therese Medical Center, 334 Ill. App. 3d 581, 778 N.E. 2d 298 (2002).
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