Last Updated: July 12, 2020

Chicago Car Accident With A Drunk Driver

Have You Been In A Chicago Car Accident with a Drunk Driver?

If you have, then there are several things you have to know.

I have had quite a few of these over the years, and there are a few wrinkles you have to be aware of, so that’s why I decided to write this article.  It can help you to understand what is different in this situation compared to some other situation involving a car accident.

Whether you already have a lawyer, want to hire one, do not really want to hire a Chicago personal injury lawyer for your case, this information can help you understand your options better.

The Drunk Driving Car Accident Case Proceeds Mostly Like Any Other Case

The basics of handling a car crash case for a personal injury lawyer is not that complicated, once you know how to do it.  There are plenty of young lawyers I have met over the years who could do a decent job in a motor vehicle crash case.  Obviously, the most experience, the better, but the cases all go in the following way, more or less.

  1.  Sign up the client.
  2. Get the Police report.
  3. Track and order the medical care.
  4. Identify responsible parties and applicable insurance coverage.
  5. When the client is done treating or their medical condition stablizes, try to get a reasonable settlement amount.
  6. If the case cannot settle, then file a law suit.
  7. Do discovery, depositions, etc and prepare for trial.
  8. Go to trial.

Of course, this is a gross simplification of how a case goes, but I think that it gives you a general idea of how most injury cases go.  There can be many, many twists and turns and complications.  And this is true with car crashes involving a drunk driver, for the most part.

Drunk Driver Car Crash Cases Are Different

There are some differences.  The first and most important difference is that in any injury case, we have to consider whether we are claiming that the Defendant’s conduct was negligent, willful and wanton, or intentional.  I will explain why we have to know this in a minute.

Negligence means that someone carelessly broke a safety rule.  Technically, it means that a person failed to act reasonably under the circumstances.  What would a normal, careful person do?  Failure to do that, under the circumstances, in a way which causes a personal injury is a Negligence.

“Willful and Wanton” means acting with a conscious disregard for the safety of others.  This means acting with a reckless indifference that your actions are likely to harm someone, or with actual knowledge that they will.

Acting “intentionally” means that you hurt someone, and you meant to hurt them.

Injury lawyers have to know what we are shooting for from a proof standpoint because certain circumstances and cases against certain Defendants require us to actually prove more than negligence.

For example, there are cases against the City of Chicago or other municipal entities which require us to prove more than negligence — we have to prove willful and wanton conduct, and if we cannot, we lose the case.  That’s true even if they were negligent.

This is relevant to a case involving a Chicago car accident with a drunk driver because in a drunk driving case, as in any case where someone acts with willful and wanton conduct, you can possibly be awarded punitive damages.

Punitive Damages in Illinois Law

The law defines when you can claim punitive damages in a civil injury case as follows and Illinois Pattern jury Instructions show us EXACTLY what a Judge will tell the Jury about awarding punitive damages in a car accident injury trial:

If you find that [(Defendant’s name)] conduct was [fraudulent] [intentional] [willful and wanton] and proximately caused [injury] [damage] to the plaintiff, and if you believe that justice and the public good require it, you may award an amount of money which will punish [(Defendant’s name)] and discourage [it/him/her] and others from similar conduct.

In other words, if a Defendant car driver acts with a conscious disregard for the safety of others, then the injured person can sue for more than just what they lost.  They can ask for an amount of money IN ADDITION to what they lost, to punish the other driver who was driving drunk and caused the crash.

(Keep in mind that a Plaintiff can request punitive damages in any case where there is willful and wanton conduct by the Defendant, not just in Chicago car accident cases.)

This is a big deal because it scares the Defendant and it scares the Defendant’s insurance company, and they often then want to settle the case.  This often results in them offering more money than they usually do.

Punitive Damages Are Not Automatic

Illinois law says that before you can ask for punitive damages, the Court gets to decide whether it is proper or not.

Sec. 2-604.1.  Pleading of punitive damages.  In all actions on account of bodily injury or physical damage to property, based on negligence, or product liability based on any theory or doctrine, where punitive damages are permitted no complaint shall be filed containing a prayer for relief seeking punitive damages. However, a plaintiff may, pursuant to a pretrial motion and after a hearing before the court, amend the complaint to include a prayer for relief seeking punitive damages. The court shall allow the motion to amend the complaint if the plaintiff establishes at such hearing a reasonable likelihood of proving facts at trial sufficient to support an award of punitive damages. Any motion to amend the complaint to include a prayer for relief seeking punitive damages shall be made not later than 30 days after the close of discovery. A prayer for relief added pursuant to this Section shall not be barred by lapse of time under any statute prescribing or limiting the time within which an action may be brought or right asserted if the time prescribed or limited had not expired when the original pleading was filed.  

So it is important that your Chicago personal injury lawyer develops evidence in the case to support a finding that the Defendant was drunk, and/or that he or she was willful and wanton in their actions.

You do this by asking the Defendant what he had to drink, whether he was drunk, whether he pleaded guilty to DUI charges or not, and also, by testimony of witnesses as to what the Defendant had to drink and as to his appearance and behavior before and after the crash if they are available.

The point of this is to establish that the Defendant chose to become intoxicated and chose to operate a vehicle while intoxicated, and admitted in another case that he was intoxicated.  That means, in other words, that he acted with a willful and conscious disregard for the safety of others.

Lawyers tend to like these cases because it opens sup stronger arguments to protect the community against someone who might drive drunk again if the Jury lets them off the hook.  It opens up the potential for a larger verdict, and that makes an injured client more satisfied about how much they recover in their injury case.

Think about it:  a case worth a $20,000 Verdict can become a $100,000 Verdict if the Jury believes that the Defendant needs to be taught a lesson so he never does this kind of thing again. that can make a big difference in what an injured person takes home after a personal injury trial.  of course, punitive damages are not guaranteed after a drunk driver car accident case.  That is for the Jury to decide.

Good Chicago personal injury lawyers know how to handle drunk driving car accident cases  and can really turn a rough case that other lawyers might turn down into a profitable case.  That means a case where you end up with full compensation for your injuries, anbd possible collect punitive damages, too.

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Scott DeSalvo, Injury Lawyer - 312-500-4500


I've been helping injured people just like you for my entire 20+ year career in all kinds of injury cases, and I can probably help you, too. You can call me 24/7/365, any time, day or night, to get a free copy of the Injury "Cheat Sheet" which gives you the Five Secrets to winning your injury case. 100% free & no obligation. Or, you can call and ask for a FREE case strategy session where I will answer all of your questions, 100% for free and no obligation. Call 312-500-4500. I look forward to hearing from you!

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