7 Steps to an Uninsured Motorist Claim in Illinois
Illinois has special rules for how an injured person can claim compensation when hurt by an uninsured driver or when involved in a hit-and-run accident. As long as you carry uninsured motorist insurance, you may still have a chance at recovering money after an accident.
Step One: What to do at the scene of the accidentThere are generally two types of motor vehicle accidents that are covered by your Illinois uninsured motorist insurance: (1) When the other driver has no insurance, and (2) when the other driver flees the scene of the wreck. At the scene of the accident, you need to remain calm and make sure you call the police. Even if you aren't sure if you are hurt, getting the authorities on scene is still a good idea. They will dispatch an ambulance and police officers. This will trigger a crash report, and the police will take a general statement about what happened. This police report will help you in trying to get your claim resolved, because it documents that there was indeed a crash. Never let an uninsured motorist give you cash on the scene to let them leave. Just take as much information as you can get, including license plate number and their name, if they will provide it. Wait for the police to arrive and collect all the important information.
Step Two: Get medical treatment the same dayA lot of people get into car accidents and assume they will probably be fine. Then, days or even weeks later, they begin to feel the effects of muscle soreness, aches and pains, and sometimes even sharp headaches and cramps. This is because soft-tissue injuries are very common. These are caused by muscle inflammation and damage to the underlying tissues in your neck, shoulders, and back. Plus, some people even find out weeks later that they broke bones in the accident, yet they didn't even realize it at first. This is why you really should consider going to the emergency room for care right away. This will not only help you catch any serious injuries before you have to endure unnecessary pain, but it also further documents those injuries for the insurance company.
Step 3: Schedule a free consultation with a local auto accident lawyerWhile this guide is aimed at helping people resolve their own uninsured motorist (UM) claims, there is no harm in at least calling a lawyer to discuss your options. A good lawyer is one who will have the heart and soul of a counselor, not the heart of a salesman. Make sure you talk to a lawyer who is licensed in your state and has real experience handling auto accident claims. Since these free consultations have no obligation to hire the lawyer, you can at least present questions, get advice, and make an informed decision about your next steps. If you decide to try to go it alone, that is your right. But never pass up a chance to have a free consultation.
Step 4: Notify your insurance carrierThis is where an attorney can make a huge difference. Your insurance company likely has language in your policy that requires you to cooperate in their investigation, which includes your obligation to give a statement. If you hire a lawyer, they can help you prepare for that statement and even be present for it. If not, just be aware that since there is no other party available to pay for your damages, your insurance company may take an adversarial posture, treating you as a potential risk. This means they may look for contractual or statutory reasons to deny or reduce your claim. If you do not fully understand the law and all of the rules pertaining to admissibility of evidence, you will want to do your research in advance. Several helpful links are provided in this guide to help you better understand the process.
Step 5: Gather evidenceYou will need to get the crash report. In most counties, you can just go to the local police station and obtain a copy. Illinois law enforcement agencies are allowed to charge up to $5.00 for a copy, but many times they will give it to you for free. Next, you will want to check the local court to see if the other driver was ticketed for driving without insurance. If they plead guilty and admit to having no insurance, this should help your insurance company confirm that your uninsured motorist benefits are triggered. Once it is clear that the other driver was (a) at fault in causing the wreck, (b) uninsured at the time of the wreck, and (3) has no assets to pay for the injuries, your insurance company will probably want to receive copies of all your medical treatment records and bills. You can provide these in two ways.
You could obtain them all yourself, but providers may charge you a reasonable fee. You can save money by using a HiTech Act request. The full law is cited below, but this is basically a letter you write to your medical providers, asking them to send you an electronic version of all your records and bills. You should include your social security number, date of birth, dates of treatment, and make sure it is signed and dated. If this does not work, you may want to get a lawyer to assist you.
The second option is to sign a medical authorization, giving your insurance company access to your treatment records. You have a right to limit what they can access, by limiting them to the relevant and related care you received for the accident. However, most lawyers advise against giving blanket access to your records, as this can open the door to other problems, like the insurance company making arguments about pre-existing conditions.
Finally, you will need to make sure you speak with your health insurance provider to see if there are liens pending. If you have Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance, and they have paid toward your care and treatment, they may have a right to be reimbursed from your settlement.
Step 6: Issue a settlement demandOnce you have gathered the crash report, all related medical bills and records, witness statements, proof of lost income, and any other evidence that you believe helps your case, you want to make a demand to your insurance company. This is a formal letter that you should send via certified mail. Make a reasonable demand for an amount of money that will adequately pay all medical expenses, reimburse your lost time from work, and compensate for your physical pain and suffering. It may take up to a couple months for the insurance company to review your demand and make an offer. Never accept the first offer. Instead, try to negotiate. Threaten to hire a lawyer if they don't increase their offer, and make sure you know about any liens that may be pending against your case. Otherwise, you could end up with just a fraction of the amount you agree to.
Step 7: Make a formal demand for arbitrationUnder Illinois law, you generally have just 2 years to formally demand arbitration. Some insurance policies have tried to usurp this law by adding complex deadlines into their policies, but Illinois usually says these are against public policy. Nevertheless, if you cannot reach a settlement agreement within a few months of making the demand, then you need to issue a formal arbitration demand. Illinois law says you do not always get to sue your insurance company just because you can't agree on the claim value. Instead, you must demand arbitration and name a neutral arbitrator. You can locate an arbitrator by visiting www.adr.org. You can also contact your county's local bar association, and they will usually be able to give you a list of arbitrators.
Once you demand arbitration and nominate your neutral arbitrator, the insurance company must name its neutral arbitrator within 45 days. If they do not, you have the right to take your case directly to AAA Arbitration, a private third-party arbitration company.
In most cases, the insurance company will name a neutral arbitrator. Then, together the two arbitrators will select a third neutral. As a panel, these three arbitrators will schedule a date to hear your case. Prior to the arbitration date, you should provide the arbitrators will copies of records, medical bills, crash reports, and any other evidence you think is helpful. If the insurance company has hired a lawyer (they almost always do), you must provide them with copies of everything you give the arbitrators.
On the day of your arbitration, you will be allowed to make a statement on your own behalf. If you have a lawyer, they will take your statement instead. Then, the insurance company's attorney will cross-examine you, much the same way you might expect in a typical jury trial. There will be brief closing remarks, and the arbitrators will then deliberate and come to a decision about your award.
Final ConsiderationsUltimately, an uninsured motorist claim can be extremely complicated, and the deadlines and alternative dispute resolution rules are not as clear as they may sound. This guide is designed to provide a broad overview of the process, but many other factors can arise. For instance, you may have liens from Medicare or private health insurance that are unrelated and need to be disputed. Likewise, your insurance company may have already paid for some of your care through medical payment insurance coverage. If so, they will be allowed to take a setoff against your settlement or award, but not in all cases. Lastly, there are times when the insurance company may try to shift the blame to you or label your injuries unrelated to the wreck. This may seem strange because it is, after all, your own insurance company. Nevertheless, remember what we mentioned in the beginning of this guide. Once it is clear the other driver is unable to pay and has no insurance (or fled the scene), your insurance company is no longer viewing you as a customer in need of protection, but rather, they are looking at you as a potential claimant who is seeking money. Their job is to deny or reduce your compensation. Therefore, you will likely end up battling against your own insurance company, their high-paid attorneys, a potentially biased arbitrator, and a system that moves fairly quickly with or without your participation or knowledge.
It is generally best to hire an attorney who understands uninsured motorist claims and can guide you through the process and take that burden off of your shoulders. If you do try to handle it yourself, never be afraid to contact an attorney mid-way through the case if you get overwhelmed.