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Illinois Personal Injury and Negligence Laws Explained

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Article written by Attorney Kevin O'Flaherty
Updated on
August 26, 2020

In this article, we discuss Illinois personal injury and negligence laws and answer the following questions:


  • What is personal injury?
  • What is negligence?
  • What are the elements of a negligence claim?
  • What is comparative fault in Illinois negligence law?
  • What is Illinois’ modified comparative negligence system?
  • What damages can be awarded in a personal injury/negligence case?
  • Is there a statute of limitations for personal injury and negligence claims in Illinois?


What Is Personal Injury?


We’ve all seen the adds on television and plastered across billboards that exclaim in bold letters, “If you’ve been in a wreck…” or “Lasting injury from a medical procedure? Call now!” These are ads for personal injury legal services. Personal injury and negligence is a broad field of law that includes many types of injuries, but at its core handles almost any situation where an injury results from the interaction of two or more parties, whether purposefully or by accident. The injured party (the plaintiff) can file a personal injury lawsuit citing negligence against the other party (the defendant) seeking damages related to the injury.


What Is Negligence?


When someone sues another party in a personal injury claim, they are usually relying on the concept of negligence to establish the other party’s fault for the underlying accident. Negligence is the argument that in any situation involving more than one party, each party owes a duty to the other, and failing in that duty results in the offending party being liable for injuries received by the injured party (plaintiff). Some common examples include car accidents, slip-and-fall accidents, medical malpractice, product liability issues, etc.


What Are The Elements Of A Negligence Claim?


Proving negligence in a personal injury case involves proving the existence of the five different elements of negligence, including:


  1. The existence of duty: The defendant (the party sued for causing the personal injury) owed a duty to the other party. For example, in the negligence claim, the plaintiff asserts that the physician performing the surgery owed a duty to the plaintiff to not leave a surgical knife inside him leading to further injury and infection.
  2. Breach of duty: The defendant failed to uphold the commitment that existed between the two parties. A car is rear-ended while waiting at a stoplight. The plaintiff can argue that the second car failed in their duty to stop at the red light.
  3. Cause-in-fact: If it were not for the defendant’s failure to uphold their duty to the plaintiff, the plaintiff would not be injured.
  4. Proximate Cause: The plaintiff’s complaint is due solely to the defendant’s actions and not something else indirectly related or not related at all.
  5. Damages occurred: The plaintiff was actually damaged by the defendant’s actions or failure to uphold their duty. The complaint might allege physical damages, emotional damages, monetary damages, etc. If the plaintiff didn’t suffer any injuries or losses, then there is nothing to hold the defendant liable for.


What Is Comparative Fault In Illinois Negligence Law?


To have a negligence claim in a personal injury case fault of one or more parties must be established. Comparative fault refers to how much responsibility each party shares for the plaintiffs injury. In some cases, the fault is straightforward and 100% on the side of the defendant, such as one car rear-ending another at a stoplight. But what if the car that was rear-ended had faulty brake lights? Or the light had turned green and the first car pulled forward, but suddenly stopped for no discernable reason? Situations such as these can complicate where the fault lies in a personal injury case. Comparative fault will determine how much blame is assumed by each party, and to what degree the plaintiff’s compensation is impacted.


What Is Illinois’ Modified Comparative Negligence System?


Modified Comparative Negligence is the system Illinois uses to determine the amount of damages awarded in a negligence claim. It takes into account what degree of fault is attributable to both the defendant and the plaintiff. If it is clear the defendant is 100% at fault for the plaintiff’s injury, then the plaintiff will usually receive 100% of the damages awarded. However, if the court finds that the plaintiff is 40% at fault for the personal injury he or she will receive an appropriately reduced award in proportion with the degree of fault. 


In Illinois, under the modified comparative negligence system, if the court finds the plaintiff is responsible for more than 50% of the fault attributable to his injury, then he will incur zero in damages.


What Damages Can Be Awarded In A Personal Injury/Negligence Case?


Damages awarded in a personal injury case will depend on the specifics of the case, but in general, they are divided into three categories:


  • Economic Or Compensatory Damages: These include any damages already incurred or may incur in the future due to the injury. Examples include past and present medical bills, damaged property, lost wages due to the injury, and future loss wages calculated through the plaintiff’s lifetime.
  • Noneconomic Damages: These include things that are difficult to place a value on, but are nonetheless important, such as pain and suffering, loss of a companion, disability or disfigurement, and loss of quality of life.
  • Punitive Damages: Punitive damages can be considered a fine levied against the defendant as a punishment. For punitive damages to be appropriate, the attorney for the plaintiffs must prove that the defendant acted in a grossly negligent manner or was intentional in their injury of the plaintiff.


Is There A Statute Of Limitations For Personal Injury And Negligence Claims In Illinois?


The statute of limitations on filing a personal injury lawsuit in Illinois is two years. The two year period begins on the date of the injury or the day that the plaintiff discovered he or she was injured. If the claim is against a city or county, the period shortens to one year. 


If you’re involved in a personal injury or negligence lawsuit, whether on the plaintiff’s side or defendant’s side, a critical first step is to secure a competent personal injury attorney. If you have questions about personal injury and negligence claims in Illinois, please give us a call at 630-324-6666.


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