Liability in an Illinois Personal Injury Case
Discussion of issue of liability as a necessary element to prove in Illinois personal injury cases.
IntroductionIt is important to remember that not every accident resulting in injuries results in a successful lawsuit. In Illinois, a successful personal injury claim may only be made where the injured party can establish the liability of one or more others, as well as the damages arising from the incident. Liability can be established in various ways, depending upon the nature of the claim and the persons or entities involved in the accident that caused your injuries.
Liability Means a Breach of a DutyThe person making a personal injury claim need not prove that the other person intended to cause harm, but must establish that the other person breached a specific duty, resulting in the claimant's injuries. In auto accident cases, for example, the duty breached is usually one set forth in the Illinois Vehicle Code, such as statutes governing speed or the observation of traffic control devices such as stop signs or traffic lights.
It should be noted that a prior history of negligence in similar situations is generally not proof of liability in your specific case--Illinois courts are usually only interested in the specific breach of the specific duty in the present case. Similarly, the egregiousness of the behavior of the other party is usually not of tremendous importance when determining liability. For example, a drunk driver who runs a red light and causes injury is not liable for more damages in civil court than a sober driver who runs a red light and causes injury: The drunk person and the sober person are both responsible for any damages resulting from their negligent act, although the drunk person also faces possible prosecution and penalty under criminal law.
Comparative Fault in IllinoisIt is possible for the at-fault individual to avoid responsibility for all of the injured person's damages, if he or she can establish "comparative fault" on the part of the injured party. Simply put, if you are injured and file suit against another party, that party can make a claim in response that you were more than 50% at fault for your own injuries. If a jury believes that you were more than 50% at fault, you are prohibited under the statute from recovering any damages for your injuries. On the other hand, if a jury finds that you were 50% or less responsible for your injuries, any recovery awarded to you will be reduced by the amount of your own negligence. For example, if a jury were to find you 30% responsible for the auto accident resulting in your injuries, and the jury determined that you suffered $100,000.00 total in injuries, that jury is required by the statute to award you only $70,000.00, based upon your comparative fault in the accident ($100,000.00, less 30% = $70,000.00).
ConclusionThe issue of liability is a threshold determination to be made before pursuing a claim for personal injury in Illinois. Depending upon the circumstances of your case, there may be multiple theories of liability to consider and pursue. It is important to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney if you believe someone else is responsible for injuries you have suffered.