2 THE ILLINOIS CAR ACCIDENT GUIDE Don't Wreck Your Car Crash Case! ZACHARY R. PANCOAST & K. LINDSAY RAKERS Injury Attorneys CONTENTS I. INTRODUCTION 4 II. THE PURPOSE OF THIS GUIDE 5 III. WHEN TO HIRE A LAWYER 6 IV. HOW TO CHOOSE A LAWYER 8 V. TYPES OF INSURANCE 11 VI. WHAT TO DO FOLLOWING A CRASH 13 VII. THE INSURANCE ADJUSTER 15 VIII. YOUR INJURIES AND TREATMENT 16 IX. TOP TEN MYTHS OF A PERSONAL INJURY CASE 17 X. CONCLUSION 20 XI. ABOUT THE AUTHORS 21 I. INTRODUCTION Car "accidents" happen each day in Illinois. This is true regardless of whether you live in the smallest town or the biggest city. One thing remains the truth though, most of the time, these are not "accidents" at all. Instead, typically a car crash or car accident is caused by the carelessness or recklessness of another person. If you are injured from a car crash caused by the carelessness of someone else, you are entitled to recover for your harms and losses.
3 This guide presents information to assist you in the event that you are injured in a car crash, tractor trailer crash, motorcycle crash, or bus crash in Illinois. While this guide relates specifically to automobile crashes or "accidents", the information set forth may also prove useful in other injury producing situations. II. THE PURPOSE OF THIS GUIDE We wrote The Illinois Accident Guide to be just that a guide. Unless we have entered into a Legal Services Agreement (employment contract) with you, we are not your attorneys. Nothing in this guide is meant to serve as legal advice. If you would like to speak to a lawyer about a potential injury claim, we would be happy and honored to speak with you. If you ever have questions about a possible case or the legal process itself, you should seek out the assistance of a qualified attorney. With 11 attorneys in our firm and decades of experience in the practice of personal injury law, we have grown all too familiar with the tactics of insurance adjusters and insurance companies. We have often watched as the injured person is victimized by not only the careless person who caused the injury, but also by the insurance company. The intent of this guide is to attempt to level the playing field between the injured party, you, and the insurance company. Hopefully, after reading this guide, you will be armed with some of the information you need to avoid being bullied by an adjuster who is simply trying to protect the bottom line for the insurance company he works for. III. WHEN TO HIRE A LAWYER Immediately. Now. The insurance company began its investigation immediately. You have just as much right to start immediately, too. A car insurance policy is a contract between the insured (you) and the insurer (the insurance company). Almost all automobile insurance policies require you to notify the insurance company soon after a crash. If you fail to comply with this provision, such failure
4 may negate coverage. Meaning you won t have insurance coverage for the accident. Because the car crash is reported so quickly, the insurance company is able to get an investigator or adjuster involved from the very beginning. The investigator will take witness statements, obtain photographs of the vehicles and may even visit the scene of the crash. If you don't get someone on your side right away to do the same, the insurance company will have the upper hand. Many people who are injured believe that they cannot afford to hire an attorney. In reality, the opposite is true. For the reasons set forth above, you cannot afford to not hire an attorney. Hiring an attorney to investigate whether you have a claim should not cost you anything. Most injury attorneys work on a contingency fee basis. This means that the attorney is not paid by the hour but instead is paid a percentage of the settlement or verdict at the end of the case. This setup allows you to hire an attorney to fight for you without having to pay anything in advance. Typically, if you enter into a general contingency contract with an attorney, the attorney gets paid only if you get paid. The attorney takes all of the monetary risk. A lot of people injured in accidents believe they can just deal with the adjuster myself. Most of the time, even when it seems like things are going your way the adjuster is being "so nice", the other driver admitted fault and got a ticket, your MedPay is covering your medical bills a lawyer may be able to significantly increase the value of your case. Always remember that the adjuster for the insurance company is an employee of the insurance company and has their interests in mind NOT yours. Don't waste precious time trying to determine if you should hire an attorney. Instead, speak with a reputable personal injury attorney right away and let the attorney tell you if your potential claim warrants the involvement of counsel. A reputable injury attorney should never want a case that they can t help you do better than you could do on your own. IV. HOW TO CHOOSE A LAWYER Choosing the right attorney may be the most important decision you will make involving your case. There are several factors that you should consider when
5 deciding which attorney is best for your case. The following is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but instead, should serve as a solid starting point when selecting counsel. First, you should consider speaking to several different attorneys before selecting one. This will allow you to get a feel for whether the attorney's personality mixes well with yours. After all, you will essentially be on a team with them and you will be in contact with your lawyer repeatedly. You want to be sure that your legal representative is someone you feel comfortable with. Second, you will want to do your research. Is this particular attorney respected amongst her former clients and peers? Do they actually go to court? Are there any pending or former bar complaints against this attorney? What are his past results with these types of cases? What types of cases does she handle now? Do your homework and investigate into the professional career of any attorney you are considering hiring. The internet has a wealth of information that will prove useful to you. Third, ask the potential attorney who will actually handle your case. Some law firms take on so many cases that their attorneys cannot handle them all. As a result, some cases end up being handled by secretaries and paralegals not a lawyer. In the end, your agreement for services will be with a lawyer so make sure you are actually getting one. A good injury attorney is accessible to his client to answer questions. If you try to reach your attorney and are always given to an assistant, you may want to evaluate whether that kind of set-up is right for you and your case. Fourth, make sure you hire an attorney who specializes in personal injury cases. This just makes sense if you needed back surgery, would you go to your eye doctor? No. You would go to an experienced back surgeon who handles procedures just like yours on a regular basis. The same holds true with the practice of law. It benefits a client like you to hire a law firm that is focused on injury cases and helping people injured, like you. With a practice like that, the attorneys can devote their time and resources on cases just like yours. You then benefit from the attorney's prior cases. Fifth, you should want to hire an attorney who is willing to go the distance for you. In other words, you want a trial attorney. There are some attorneys who
6 hope to only settle cases. If the case cannot be settled, the client is told to find new counsel. A true trial attorney is willing to take every case she accepts to trial. The insurance adjusters know who these attorneys are and will react accordingly. It benefits you when the adjuster knows that your attorney is one who will take the case to a jury trial if a fair settlement isn't reached. V. TYPES OF INSURANCE There is mandatory insurance coverage in Illinois. You are in compliance with the mandatory insurance law if you have vehicle liability insurance in the following minimum amounts: - $20,000 injury or death of one person in an accident - $40,000 injury or death of more than one person in an accident - $15,000 damage to property of another person The State of Illinois requires you to carry liability insurance to cover the damages caused if the crash was your fault. Let's assume you follow the law and carry the minimum in liability coverage. If you then cause a crash, you liability coverage will pay for the damage to the other driver's vehicle and their injuries up to that minimum. Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is also available. Sometimes people don't follow the law and fail to secure liability coverage prior to causing a crash. If that happens to you, your own UM coverage would pay for your damages up to the amount of coverage you can secure. UM coverage also is useful in crashes involving a hit-and-run or phantom vehicle. Additionally, there are other types of coverage that are not required but that are available if you choose to pay for them. One of those is underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. UIM is similar to UM coverage in that your own insurance company would be making the payment. UIM coverage kicks in where the at-fault driver was carrying insurance coverage at the time of the crash but simply didn't have enough coverage to pay for all of your damages.
7 Another type of elective coverage is Medical Payments (MedPay) coverage. If you choose to include MedPay coverage in your policy, your insurance company will pay for the medical bills incurred by you and your passengers up to a certain amount. Most MedPay policies offer coverage up to $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 or even $20,000. There are several types of car insurance coverage available to you in Illinois. We suggest that after reading this guide, you contact your insurance agent, discuss your current policy, and determine if you need to make any changes. VI. WHAT TO DO FOLLOWING A CRASH Immediately following a car crash, make sure that you and your passengers are in a safe location. If you are too injured to move, don't move. Once you are safe, call the 911 to report the incident. Even if you don't think you are hurt or you don't think there is any damage to your car, you still should report the incident so there is a record of it. When the police arrive, be complete and be honest. If an ambulance arrives, let the medical personnel evaluate you. Again, you want to make an accurate record, so be complete and be honest. You should report the crash to your own insurance company as soon as possible. This is true even if you don't think the crash was your fault. Most insurance policies require the insured (you) to report a crash within a certain time period or coverage can be negated. Because you may later want to make a UM (uninsured motorist), UIM (underinsured motorist) or MedPay (medical payment) claim against your insurance policy, you want to be on the safe side and make sure that the crash was reported timely. Next, you should follow-up with your primary care physician. You should do this even if you went to the hospital. The doctors at the emergency room are focused on life threatening injuries, and thus, may not notice something that could cause you trouble later. While x-rays may be taken at the emergency room, x-rays do not show injuries to muscles, ligaments, or discs. You should follow-up with your primary care physician even if you do not think you are injured. Let your doctor do an examination and decide if there is anything to be concerned about.
8 The very next thing you should do, if you haven t already, is consult with an attorney. Do NOT give a recorded statement to any insurance adjuster. Do NOT sign any forms. Speak with an attorney about the next steps you should take to protect your rights. Once you hire an attorney, he can take care of the legal details for you so you can focus on getting your life back in order. VII. THE INSURANCE ADJUSTER The insurance adjuster is NOT your friend. Do not assume that just because she is nice on the phone and says she wants to help, that she had what is best for on her mind. To the contrary her job is to save the insurance company as much money as possible. The insurance company may delay providing you with a rental car, may delay paying for your property damage, dispute your injuries, dispute fault, request unnecessary information, and may misrepresent the policy limits available to you. She will attempt to get a recorded statement from you right away while you aren't thinking clearly and before you have hired and attorney. The adjuster may even try to encourage you to not hire an attorney. She may tell you that you will get more money if you settle your claim on your own. This is most often not true. You can guess why she will stoop to these tactics - she wants to get as much information from you as she can before you hire an attorney. She knows that once you hire an attorney, her games will have to stop. Don't fall into the trap. It is in your best interest to avoid her requests and hire counsel right away. VIII. YOUR INJURIES AND TREATMENT Following a crash, as discussed before, you should seek medical treatment right away. Often times, individuals involved in a car crash experience some type of shock. It may take days for you to realize that you are in pain. If you wait a week to go see your doctor after a crash, that gives the insurance adjuster an opportunity to argue that something else happened to you during that week to cause your pain. On the other hand, if you go to your doctor right away, even if you aren't hurting, your doctor can make a record of the crash and evaluate you for potential injuries. If you are hurting, it is even more important to go to your doctor right away. When you visit with your doctor, be honest don't omit pain but don't exaggerate your pain either. Throughout this entire process, you
9 should focus on being completely honest with the police officers and your doctors. Don't skip medical appointments. Follow your doctor's advice. Also, if you are experiencing pain on an ongoing or frequent basis, it is probably a good idea to keep a journal. It might be that a few months later, you will be feeling better and won't remember the pain you went through previously. Having kept a written record of your treatments and pain, in your own words, will be helpful. IX. TOP EIGHT MYTHS OF A PERSONAL INJURY CASE 1. I don't have to tell my attorney everything. FALSE. Your attorney is on your side. If you have had prior injuries or have a criminal record, for example, it is likely that the other side will find out. The information you provide your attorney is confidential. If you are honest and upfront with your attorney, she can help protect you. 2. Exchanging insurance info is the same as getting a police report. FALSE. Following a crash, the at-fault driver may offer to pay for the damage to your car in exchange for you not calling the police. This is because the driver does not want the incident reported to his insurance company. Do not agree to this. You may develop injuries later and with no report and no insurance information, you will have no claim. Likewise, if the driver offers to provide you with his insurance information instead of calling the police, do not agree. There is no way for you to confirm that the individual has provided accurate information. If you call the police, the officer can make a record of the crash and of the applicable insurance information. 3. If I hire an attorney, I will get less money. FALSE. This is an insurance company tactic to discourage you from hiring an attorney to protect you. Except in rare circumstances, getting an attorney involved in your case will raise the value of your case. Most reputable attorneys will tell you if you would be better off financially to settle the case on your own.
10 4. The amount of my settlement should be 3x my bills. FALSE. Each case is different and because of that, each settlement/verdict will be different. Don t assume that if your cousin s neighbor received $10,000 for his broken finger case, that you will too. A lot of factors go into determining the value of your case. A lawyer should evaluate your missed time from work, your age, your prior medical history, your injuries, the facts of the case, and many other things. Don't get caught up in someone telling you that if your medical bills total $5,000, you should get a $15,000 settlement. You may be entitled to less, you may be entitled to more. 5. I have to give a recorded statement. FALSE. This is another insurance company tactic. Don't give a recorded statement until you speak with an attorney. 6. If the crash wasn't my fault, all of my bills will be paid. FALSE. The insurance company for the at-fault driver isn't going to pay your medical bills until the end of the case. It is in your best interest to submit all of your incurred medical bills to your own health insurance company. That way your bills will be paid. If you rely on the other driver's insurance company, the delay in payment may cause your bills to go to collections. The same may occur with MedPay. Don't submit your bills to MedPay yourself. Have your health insurance company pay your medical bills. If you were carrying MedPay at the time of the crash, your attorney will advise you as to how to proceed with your MedPay claim. 7. My insurance company will treat me fairly. FALSE. Many people think that if their own insurance company has to pay for their vehicle and/or injuries, that they will be treated fairly. This isn't always the case. Your own insurance adjuster has the same motive as the adjuster for the at-fault driver to save the company money. Don't assume that just because you pay this company s premiums every month that they are always going to be on your side. 8. If I hire an attorney, I will have to go to trial. FALSE. Not every case goes to trial. If you are concerned about the idea of going to trial, it is likely that your lawyer can ease some of your concerns. If not, speak openly with your attorney about your desire to avoid trial. What's important, however, is to hire an attorney who is willing to go to trial for you if it is warranted.
11 X. CONCLUSION If you have been injured in a car crash, it is understandable that you feel overwhelmed. Following any type of injury, often times, people get the sense that their world has been turned upside down. If you familiarize yourself with the suggestions contained in this guide, you will be well on your way to protecting yourself. ABOUT THE AUTHORS Zachary R. Pancoast practices in the area of civil litigation, with a focus in medical malpractice and significant personal injury cases. As the partner running the O Fallon, Illinois (St. Louis Metropolitan) office, Zach has successfully grown a substantial injury practice in both Illinois and Missouri. Zach has practiced in the area of medical malpractice and personal injury civil litigation for over 10 years. Zach grew up in Shelbyville, Illinois. Following high school, he graduated from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana with a B.S. in Political Science in While at DePauw, Zach spent a semester studying international politics in Leiden, Holland. In 2000, Zach graduated from Saint Louis University School of Law. He also received a Certificate in International Law, having studied international politics and law in Brussels, Belgium. Following graduation, Zach worked in Edwardsville, Illinois for the law firm of Reed, Armstrong, Gorman, Mudge and Morrissey, specializing and litigating general civil defense cases. In 2001, Zach joined Moser and Marsalek, PC in St. Louis, Missouri, where he devoted his practice to complex litigation and specialized in the defense of physicians, nurses, hospitals, psychologists, nursing homes and other healthcare providers in State and Federal Courts. In 2006, Zach became a principal/partner in the Medical and Health Care Litigation Group at Moser and Marsalek, PC. On June 1, 2010, Zach joined Hefner, Eberspacher & Tapella, LLC as a partner. Zach brings ten years of litigation experience to Hefner, Eberspacher & Tapella, LLC, has represented clients in Missouri and Illinois, and has served as both lead counsel and assistant counsel in numerous jury trials in Missouri and Illinois Courts. Zach has been active in a number of professional organizations. He is a member of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, the St. Clair Bar Association, the Illinois Bar Association and the American Bar Association. He previously served as the co-chair of the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis - Bench, Bar and Professional Development Conference, after serving as a committee member for the conference for many years, and speaking to the conference on the topic of Motion Practice for New Attorneys. Zach currently sits on the Board of the St. Louis Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Zach and his wife, Mini, live in St. Louis, Missouri.
12 From a young age, Lindsay found herself drawn to the practice of law and; specifically, the courtroom. As she watched her grandfather serve as a highly regarded judge in the small town of Taylorville, Illinois, Lindsay grew most interested in those cases involving personal injury. Lindsay s involvement with legal debate organizations started early and continued through her secondary education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Subsequently, Lindsay s passion for the law, coupled with her hard work ethic, helped her achieve her dream of graduating from St. Louis University School of Law. Due to her extensive trial advocacy training throughout her law school career, Lindsay was selected to join one of the premier defense firms in Missouri. Not very long after, however, Lindsay realized that representing insurance companies was not what she wanted to do with her training. Instead, she joined a firm where she was able to protect the injured and their families. Her tireless dedication to her injured clients has led to a $1.3 million dollar award against MoDot and over $11 million dollars in settlements. In 2009, Lindsay was inducted into The Million Dollar Advocates Forum, an exclusive group of trial attorneys composed of less than 1% of attorneys nationwide. In 2011, Lindsay was honored with both a "Superb" Avvo rating and an "AV Preeminent" rating from Martindale- Hubbel. Lindsay s fight for the injured continues as she devotes 100% of her time and skills to the practice of personal injury law. Lindsay is proud to be a part of a group that treats every client like family and every case as if it s the only case. Each day, Lindsay uses her advocacy skills to ensure that her client s don t fall victim to corporate greed and bullying. Currently, Lindsay represents those injured in the following types of cases: tractor trailer crashes, car crashes, motorcycle crashes, pedestrian crashes, taxi crashes, bus crashes, bicycle crashes, boat and barge crashes, airplane crashes, slip and falls, premises liability, defective products, dangerous drugs, burns, bad faith, animal attacks, and toxic exposure. Although she loves the practice of law, Lindsay also enjoys life outside of work. She is an avid member of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society-Gateway Chapter and serves as an adjunct instructor at Fontbonne University. A mother of two daughters, Lindsay frequently visits the Magic House, St. Louis Zoo, and City Museum. To obtain further information, contact injury attorneys Zachary Pancoast and Lindsay Rakers at (618) or You can also visit their website
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THE TOP 10 QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK YOUR CAR ACCIDENT LAWYER? Introduction After six straight years of decline, the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) reports that auto accidents, injuries
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20 Essential Legal Tips to Know Before You Hire a Lawyer Ken LaMance, Attorney at Law Copyright 2000-2010 All Rights Reserved Contents Do I need a Lawyer? 1. Define your problem carefully before considering