Clifford Law’s transportation and automobile liability attorney answers your questions
Hon. Henry R. Simmons (Ret.) previously served as a judge with the Cook County Circuit Court for nearly two decades where he served on the bench in the Law Division as well as the Criminal Division. His experience on the bench was wide ranging - from transportation, premises liability, construction injuries, and commercial disputes. While in the civil division, he was known on the bench as the peacemaker and someone who achieved an extraordinarily high rate of success in settling matters. His trial experience included numerous high-profile cases involving complex issues and multi-party disputes. Retired Judge Simmons is the hub for all those who initially contact Clifford Law Offices for help.
We asked Judge Simmons to answer your transportation liability lawyer FAQs:
What information will the automobile liability attorney need when it comes to a car accident case?
Henry: When I have an initial interview with the client, I always ask them to please bring the police report or at least the Illinois Motorist Report which the investigating police officer will give them, which at least contains the file number of the police report and the full name and address of the defendant and, if there is an insurance card, the insurance information of the defendant. Secondly, I always want my client’s own automobile insurance policy with the declaration sheet. Because when you open up a file, you must send a notice to our client’s own insurance company immediately about a potential uninsured or underinsured claim. Even the insurance card that the defendant driver presents might be accurate, but then the insurance might have lapsed, and if you don’t give a notice to your insurance company within a certain period of time, that claim is voided. So, when you open up a file routinely, we not only send a lien letter, a representation letter out to the defendant, we send a representation letter out to our client’s own insurance company. And if they have any medical reports, of course, I especially like to see emergency room reports, which give somewhat of a summary of the client’s injuries. We also gather any photographs that a client may have relating to their injuries or damages to their car.
Why do I need automobile insurance?
Henry: Everyone needs automobile insurance. The state of Illinois requires one to have automobile insurance to operate a vehicle. Automobile insurance protects our assets, our livelihood, and everything we’ve worked for throughout our lives. When we purchase automobile insurance, we purchase protection in case, we of course, make a mistake. That’s called liability coverage. We purchase protection if our car is damaged when we are parked and at the ball game and that’s called collision coverage. We also purchase protection of medical payments and underinsured coverage and uninsured coverage. It is very important to have as much underinsured and uninsured coverage as one can afford. This is crucial since many motorists have minimal liability coverage this day and age.
What is uninsured coverage and underinsured motorist coverage and is it important?
Henry: Uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured coverage is extra protection I purchase for my family and for myself. Let’s say that the responsible person that causes a crash in an intersection – the one who blows a red light, strikes my car — and it turns out I am seriously injured and the other person has no insurance. Then my own policy of insurance covers me against the uninsured driver. If I don’t have sufficient liability limits to protect my family in the uninsured category, then I could get nothing if that car is uninsured. When a citizen purchases insurance for his car, he purchases certain liability limits. For example, we call it 20/40, 50/100, 100/300. Let’s take the example of 100/300. When I go to my agent, my agent is going to sell me various levels of coverage. If I purchase 100/300, that means my insurance company, Allstate, State Farm, Farmers, is covering me if I make a mistake up to $100,000 per person but no more than $300,000 per crash or occurrence. Now, what’s tricky about that is I should be purchasing the same amount of uninsured and underinsurance coverage as I do liability coverage. So if the responsible person only has $20,000 in coverage, my underinsured will pick up the difference between the $20,000 and the $100,000. That’s the protection of under-insurance. Remember, it is crucial to protect you and your family by obtaining the most underinsured and uninsured coverage you can afford.
If I am in a collision, should I call the police?
Henry: Absolutely. It’s absolutely critical to have documentation of the date, time and information concerning the events of the crash. Typically, the only way you receive that in an unbiased manner would be if you call the police. Sometimes, due to other emergent matters, the police may not have enough personnel to respond to an accident wherein no injurees have occurred. Under these circumstances one should gather all the information of the other driver(s) involved. Many of us have smart phones wherein one can take pictures of license plates, insurance cards, intersection or site of accident and damage to the cars involved. This information will be very helpful to the attorney assigned to the case. Illinois utilizes the Illinois Motorist Accident Report to document the information involving an accident. Make sure you obtain a copy of this report from the responding police agency or complete one yourself promptly after the accident.
If I am injured, should I go to the doctor?
Henry: Yes! First and foremost, you should always seek medical attention for your own well-being! For purposes of your future claim for personal injury as your lawyer, we need to effectively prove the nature and extent of your injuries. Having a physician diagnosis and treat your injuries and prepare the required medical charts provides the evidence that you were truly injured. Some of our clients try to fight through the pain or state that they are too busy to seek medical attention and ultimately this can destory their ability to substantiate that they were injured to the insurance adjuster and/or defense attorney and court.
If I’m also in a collision, and I think I might be injured, maybe I don’t know if I’m injured, is it always good to be precautionary and see my doctor?
Henry: Absolutely. Everyone should have regular checkups with their physician, especially after an accident. Anyone injured in an accident will have at least some soft tissue injuries - by that, I mean there will be sprains and strains of ligaments and muscles of the body. Those are serious injuries in their own right, and need to be examined and treated by a physician as early as possible. And even though there doesn’t seem to have broken bones, you should have all of that checked out by the doctor. Your body is not used to being banged around like that and if you are in a collision, obviously you had to been moved around and in a shock so it’s always a good idea to take the precautionary steps and go see the doctor. Maybe get some x-rays, get the head examined, get your neck examined, your back examined, just to be sure everything is okay.
If I am in a collision, do I have to talk to the other party’s insurance company?
Henry: No. In fact, for the most part, we recommend that you do not talk to the potential defendant’s insurance company. What they are going to want to do is to have you make a statement. Any statement our client could make, potential could be trouble by way of implying some contradiction or what we call impeachment. My best advice is never give a statement over the phone to the questions from the defendant’s insurance company. You have no duty to talk to them. Consult your lawyer before you give a statement to anyone.
If my policy discusses coverage regarding per person and per occurrence, what is the difference?
Henry: Let’s say there is an automobile crash. I am in my car, and my wife and my two children are in my car. All four are injured. The defendant that hits me has $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence. That means of the four people in my car, no one person can get more than $100,000 from the defendant’s insurance company and the four total of us could never collect more than $300,000.
If I have liability insurance and I’m driving in a friend’s vehicle, does that insurance cover me in case of a collision?
Henry: When you are driving your friend’s automobile, you are a permissive user of that automobile and you will have coverage on two policies of insurance. The primary coverage will be with your friend’s automobile because insurance coverage travels with the automobile first. In addition, you will also have your coverage on your own automobile if you own and use regularly an automobile.
If I am a passenger, can I be liable in an automobile collision?
Henry: Generally, not. The driver is in control of the automobile and has the duty to take care of his driving. I am trying to think of an instance where a passenger could be liable and I can’t think of anything. The problem with a passenger at times, if he is injured in that collision, is that he may have some comparative negligence if he got into a car in which he thought the driver was impaired and he has a duty to keep himself safe from putting himself in a position of potential injury.
What damages can an automobile liability attorney help me recover in an automobile accident case?
Henry: There are four elements of damages available in a personal injury lawsuit, including, of course, automobile negligence. The first two are economic damages. Our clients are entitled to reimbursement of their full medical bills, no matter who pays them. Insurance or otherwise. Number 2, they are entitled to reimbursement of all of the time that they lost from work. That is the time that is represented from which they could not work because of their injuries even if they were paid for their time off on a disability policy. Those are called economic damages. So there are two economic damages, medical bills and loss of wages. The other damages are non-economic damages and those are called pain and suffering and loss of a normal life or disability. And those are very significant.