Generally, the law in Illinois requires negligent drivers to pay for the property that they damage and for the injuries that they inflict. Almost everyone thinks that the law is fair, but that does not mean that everyone complies with the law. Some drivers in Illinois have no automobile insurance at all, and far too many traffic accidents and serious injuries are caused by those drivers.

If an uninsured motorist injures you in the state of Illinois, even if you pursue and win a civil personal injury lawsuit, if that driver has no money, you’ll receive nothing. However, that does not mean that you have no legal recourse if you are injured by a negligent, uninsured driver. Even if the driver who injured you is uninsured and genuinely penniless, a good personal injury lawyer can often find another pathway for you to obtain compensation.

Under Illinois law, drivers must carry uninsured motorist coverage with limits that are equal to their bodily injury liability coverage limits – unless they choose lower coverage limits in writing. The minimum uninsured motorist coverage limits are $20,000 per person with a maximum of $40,000 per accident.

That coverage offers some basic protection to those who are injured in a collision with a negligent, uninsured or underinsured motorist, but when the injuries are serious or disabling, the actual amount of the damages can far exceed what that coverage provides.

Below are some of the most frequently asked questions about traffic accidents, injuries, liability, and uninsured drivers in Illinois. The answers, however, can only be general answers, because the details will be different in every case, so if you are injured by a negligent driver in the greater Chicago area, do not wait. Immediately contact an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney who can explain your options and rights and provide more detailed answers to these frequently asked questions:

Q: What automobile insurance does the law require in Illinois?

A: Illinois requires drivers to carry liability insurance for any vehicle they drive in this state. The minimum liability coverage that a driver must carry is $20,000 for the injury or death of one person, $40,000 for multiple injury victims or deaths in a single collision, and $15,000 for property damage. As mentioned previously, uninsured motorist coverage is also mandatory in Illinois. If you can, it’s smart to obtain a policy with even more coverage. If you are found at fault for a crash with injuries, and the damages exceed your policy’s limits, you might be held personally liable for the difference.

Q: How can drivers be uninsured in Illinois if auto insurance is mandatory?

A: In Illinois, you must have auto insurance to register a vehicle. Some drivers, especially drivers who are broke and feel somewhat desperate, will purchase automobile insurance just to get a vehicle registered, and then they will cancel the policy. Until those drivers are pulled over by a police officer or involved in an accident, they drive penalty-free. The California Department of Insurance tells us that across the United States, 14 percent of all traffic collisions are caused by drivers who are uninsured and that about 16 percent of all motorists in the U.S. have no auto insurance.

Q: If a driver who is uninsured injures you in Illinois, how can compensation be obtained?

A: If you are injured in a collision, and the other driver has no insurance or that driver’s policy is insufficient to compensate you adequately, you and your lawyer will likely examine your own policy first. If you have uninsured motorist coverage, your insurance company should pay what you would receive if the negligent driver had insurance, up to the limits of the coverage.

You may also have coverage under a policy purchased by someone else in your family or household. In some cases, finding a policy that adequately covers your injuries can require some effort, but it’s the first step when you’re injured, you can’t work, and the medical expenses start to pile up.

Q: Is there a legal penalty for those who drive without insurance in Illinois?

A: Driving without insurance is a “petty offense” in this state, so no jail time is imposed, but a conviction for driving without insurance in Illinois is punishable with a fine of from $500 to $1,000. Additionally, the driver’s license and the vehicle’s registration will be suspended until the driver can produce proof that he or she has obtained auto insurance. After a first conviction for driving without insurance, a driver’s failure to keep auto insurance coverage can trigger another suspension of the driver’s license.

Q: What happens if you loan your vehicle, which is insured, to an uninsured friend who causes an accident with injuries?

A: As a general rule, auto insurance policies cover the vehicle rather than the person driving it. In Illinois, if you loan your vehicle to someone who drives negligently and causes injury, a claim will probably be made against your auto insurance policy, and you’ll pay more for auto insurance in the future.

However, in some cases, auto insurance companies will not extend coverage to a driver who is not specifically named in the policy. Have your own automobile insurance provider explain precisely what your policy covers before you lend your vehicle to anyone.

Q: What is your recourse if you are injured by a hit-and-run driver?

A: There are a number of reasons why a negligent driver might leave the scene of an accident after causing injuries. Having no insurance is one of the leading reasons. Thus, even if the police are able to identify a hit-and-run driver, there is no reason to assume that the driver will have auto insurance. And if you are injured by a hit-and-run driver who cannot be identified, you may have to make a claim against your own uninsured motorist coverage. But first, you should discuss your options and rights with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

Q: Are there additional steps you can take to protect yourself and your passengers?

A: You may want to consider a purchasing personal liability umbrella policy (or “PLUP”), which gives you additional coverage beyond uninsured motorist coverage. Generally, personal “umbrella” insurance is liability insurance in excess of other your other insurance policies for losses not covered by the other policies. Every driver in Illinois needs to have sufficient auto insurance coverage.

If you are injured by a negligent driver – whether or not that driver is insured – promptly discuss your case with an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney. While you recover from serious injuries, anxiety about paying the medical bills is the last thing you need.

By: Stephen Phillips

Stephen D. Phillips is the managing partner at the Phillips Law Offices in Chicago. He earned his Juris Doctor from Loyola University in 1985 and his B.A. from the University of Iowa in 1981. He is an extensively published writer and sought-after lecturer on legal topics ranging from medical malpractice to tort reform. Mr. Phillips is also the recipient of a number of awards and honors from various legal and community groups.