In Illinois, a person making a claim for injuries arising from an auto accident must prove two things in order to prevail: liability and damages. Proof of liability requires the presentation of evidence showing 1) that the other driver owed a specific duty to the injured person, and 2) that the other driver breached that duty. Auto accident claims typically involve at least one allegation that the at-fault driver violated the Illinois Vehicle Code by disobeying a traffic control device, making an illegal left turn, etc. Many times, the at-fault driver is issued a traffic ticket by the law enforcement officer dispatched to the scene of the accident. Many clients incorrectly assume that issuance of the ticket automatically establishes the liability of the other driver. The reality is much more complicated.
First, one must always remember that the issuance of a traffic ticket itself is never proof of guilt of a violation of the Vehicle Code. It is only the first step in a process that requires the prosecuting entity, (the state or a local municipality), to prove the guilt of the at-fault party. Furthermore, a traffic prosecution and a civil claim for damages due to negligence involve separate procedures under Illinois law, and therefore, even if the at-fault driver was found guilty of the citation following a trial, the civil plaintiff is still required to prove liability in the injury case. The finding of guilt following trial of the traffic ticket is not even admissible at trial in the civil proceeding.
However, should the at-fault driver plead guilty to the violation in traffic court, that plea is considered a judicial admission under the law and is admissible at trial in the injury case. This is the one scenario where issuance of a ticket to the at-fault driver at the scene is helpful in the civil case. Clearly though, the facts and circumstances surrounding the auto accident are more important than whether a traffic ticket was issued at the scene. If you have been injured in an auto accident, jot down your observations and memories as soon as you are able afterward, and take steps to determine whether any independent witnesses were present at the scene. These things are crucial to your attorney’s analysis of the case, and will generally have more impact than whether a ticket was issued.
Thomas Polacek practices in the area of personal injury for McNamara Phelan McSteen, LLC. He has tried many civil and criminal cases to verdict in Illinois and Missouri, as well as in Federal District Court. He has been a successful trial attorney for over 25 years, and he prides himself on keeping his clients well-informed throughout the litigation process.
MPM encourages anyone who has been injured in a car accident, by falling, or in any way through another’s negligence to contact Tom for a free consultation as soon as possible so that he may review your case and provide you with the proper direction to proceed with your claims.