In auto accident suits in Illinois, juries are asked to determine the issue of liability based on whether the defendant was negligent and the plaintiff was contributorily negligent.
- “Negligence” means failing to behave in a reasonably careful way for the safety of others;
- “contributory negligence” is failing to behave in a reasonable way for your own safety.
At the end of a civil trial in Illinois, a jury is given instructions which tell them how to decide the issues in the case. When it comes to the issue of whether there was negligence or contributory negligence, the instructions literally leave it up to the jury to decide what is reasonably careful conduct under the circumstances. That’s not a lot of guidance.
The one bit of guidance that juries normally receive is that they are advised they can consider a violation of a statute as evidence of a negligence. When it comes to the “Rules of the Road,” there actually is a statute that deals with left turns. This is what it says:
The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left within an intersection or into an alley, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction which is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard, but said driver, having so yielded may proceed at such time as a safe interval occurs.
The jury is asked to make a determination as to the percentage of fault the defendant and the victim each had in causing the accident. If a jury finds that the victim’s fault (the amount of contributory negligence) was more than 50%, then there is a “not guilty” verdict for the defense. For any degree 50% or less, the amount of the damages is reduced proportionately (a finding of 30% contributory negligence results in a 30% reduction in damages).
Smart, aggressive defense lawyers rely heavily on the issue of contributory negligence to help them defend cases where their client made a left hand turn in front of oncoming traffic. A few of the ways that they do that:
- You were speeding
- You could have slowed down
- He nearly cleared the intersection when the accident happened.
These defenses are intended to increase the amount of fault allocated to the accident victim and decrease the fault on the part of the defendant. A finding of any significant degree of fault on the part of the accident victim can put a severe dent in the amount recovered.
The bottom line: left turn accidents do not result in “automatic liability” against the defendant, and an aggressive defense can result in an unfairly lowered amount of compensation for the accident victim. Anyone who is involved in a left turn accident would do well to hire an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer to assist them with the case.
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