Taking the Confusion Out of Common Injury and Estate Planning Worries: Answers to Your Frequent Questions
The most important job for any attorney is making sure that his client understands every aspect of her case. Although some lawyers are comfortable keeping their clients in the dark, we feel that you deserve more. You deserve to have all of your questions and concerns addressed in order to pursue your own case confidently and successfully. This is why we take the initiative to answer common questions that you may have even before you even step into our office. If you don't see your question answered below, please contact our office at 855-522-5291.
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What is a commercial driver’s license and why is it important in a truck crash case?
Drivers need special skills and comprehensive training to operate commercial vehicles. For this reason, it is illegal to drive a tractor-trailer, school bus, or other large vehicle without a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL). If a trucker is involved in a car accident and does not have a CDL, the driver’s employer can be held financially liable for penalties as well as the costs of the crash.
Employers Share Liability for Drivers Without a Commercial Driver’s License
Fault for a truck accident can fall on the truck driver, but also on the employer who failed in its responsibility to hire a safe, qualified driver. These duties include ensuring that drivers pass written and practical CDL skills tests, maintain their licenses, and do not drive on revoked or suspended licenses. If they fail to carry out their duties, employers can shoulder some, or all, of the financial burden of an accident.
Trucking companies have a duty to ensure that their drivers have met all CDL requirements, including:
- Proper classification. There are different kinds of CDLs depending on the type of vehicle driven as well as the type and location of travel. The 3 classes of CDLs have specialized qualifications depending on the weight of the vehicle (such as for driving tractor-trailers or tankers) and number of passengers (such as for operating school buses). If a driver involved in a crash has the wrong type of CDL, the employer may be held liable.
- Endorsements and restrictions. If companies require a driver to carry hazardous materials or oversized loads, the company is required to obtain the correct permits and driving endorsements for these journeys.
- Interstate travel. Federal law requires that CDL drivers must be 21 years or older in order to cross state lines, and must be 18 years or older to drive commercial vehicles within state lines. Employers must not allow underage truck drivers to perform journeys between multiple states.
- Driving safely and legally. Trucking companies have a responsibility to perform adequate pre-employment testing, including skills tests and screening for controlled substances. Drivers can lose a CDL indefinitely for using drugs or alcohol behind the wheel, and the trucking company can face action for allowing a driver who failed a drug test to stay on the active driving schedule.
- Hours of service records. Fatigued driving is a major cause of truck crashes, and drivers must be trained on hours of service rules and maintain logbooks that record hours driven. Companies that encourage the falsification of logbooks can face federal criminal charges and penalties.
Our attorneys represent individuals throughout Illinois and Missouri who have suffered serious personal injuries, including those caused by commercial trucks. Simply fill out the short contact form on this page to schedule an appointment for a free consultation, or download your FREE copy of one of our books, When the Rules of the Road Get Broken: A Guide to Illinois Car Wreck Cases or The Missouri Car Crash Guide: Don't Wreck Your Car Crash Case!
Should I release my medical records to the insurance company?
Car accident victims may receive medical records release requests from an insurance company at some point in their claims. Since all medical records are protected under state and federal law, insurers cannot access them without your written permission. It is vital that you do not sign these releases without consulting with a personal injury attorney.
Dangers of Releasing Medical Records to an Insurance Company
Insurers may request medical documents for many reasons, such as to verify your injuries, estimate the costs of your treatment, or to authorize payment of your medical bills. Since many victims are not used to dealing with insurance companies after a crash, they may not realize that they should never sign release requests without first speaking to an attorney.
Insurance companies may request that you sign a medical release in order to:
- Access your complete medical history. Insurers will flag anything in your medical history that can be used to discredit you and devalue your claim. Your medical records may contain personal and private information that you would not want to be shared publicly, which can be leveraged by an insurance company—even if the information has nothing to do with your injury claim.
- Look for weaknesses in your claim. Insurance companies will comb through your records and look for ways to deny your claim. This can include identifying any preexisting conditions you did not mention, medical treatments for your injuries that were expensive or unnecessary, or a doctor’s written opinion that he or she does not agree with your assessment of your injury.
- Pressure you to settle quickly. Insurance representatives are trained to identify injuries and conditions that can lead to further treatment and lifelong complications. Adjusters may offer a fast settlement that seems reasonable to the patient, but the patient will not be able to recover any additional payment from the insurer once the offer is accepted.
Our personal injury attorneys can review any records requests and ensure that only the necessary information is sent to the insurance company. Contact the Tapella & Eberspacher Law Firm via our online contact form to schedule an appointment in our Illinois or Missouri offices, or download your FREE copy of one of our books, When the Rules of the Road Get Broken: A Guide to Illinois Car Wreck Cases or The Missouri Car Crash Guide: Don't Wreck Your Car Crash Case!
If the amount I was offered for my car accident isn’t enough, can I negotiate with the insurance company?
Many people will receive payment from a car insurance company within a few weeks of suffering an accident. However, the amount on the check may not be enough to cover the full amount of losses, especially if the crash caused severe injuries. If the offer is too low, it is perfectly acceptable to negotiate the amount with your claim adjuster—but it will take time and skill to get the company to agree to an acceptable amount.
How to Negotiate a Car Accident Settlement
You do not have to accept the first amount offered by your insurance company if it is not enough. A low first offer is often open for negotiation, and can be brought up several thousand dollars simply by providing a counteroffer and compelling evidence to support the amount requested.
If you are negotiating with the insurer yourself, it is important that you:
- Know your car insurance policy inside-out. The insurer is not going to give you an amount above the policy limit, and will not pay for anything that is specifically excluded under the policy. You should read your insurance policy declaration page carefully to learn what is covered, what is not covered, and the payment limits.
- Know what you are willing to accept. You should have a firm number in mind that will compensate you for your covered losses (including property damage and medical expenses from the crash). Once you have calculated the amount of your losses, you should decide on a minimum and maximum payment range that is acceptable to you. Keep these numbers in mind when negotiating, but do not share them with the insurance company.
- Be prepared to wait. Claims adjusters are paid to save the insurance company as much money as possible, and they have years of training in reducing the amount paid on claims. You should be prepared to go back and forth with offers and counteroffers many times to reach an agreement, which could take several months.
If your claim has been denied, delayed, or lowballed after a car accident, our injury attorneys can negotiate a settlement that works for you. Contact The Tapella & Eberspacher Law Firm via our online contact form to schedule an appointment in our Illinois or Missouri offices, or download your FREE copy of one of our books, When the Rules of the Road Get Broken: A Guide to Illinois Car Wreck Cases or The Missouri Car Crash Guide: Don't Wreck Your Car Crash Case!
How much does a truck accident lawyer cost?
Most people who have been struck by a semi-truck do not have the financial resources to pay a lawyer who charges by the hour, and cannot take the risk of losing the money invested in a legal case. For this reason, the vast majority of attorneys charge on a contingency fee basis for all personal injury cases. This allows victims to get the legal representation they need without paying any costs up front. If the attorney does not win the case, the victim does not have to pay any fees at all—and if the case is successful, the attorney will take a portion of the victim’s recovery as payment.
Estimating the Costs of a Truck Accident Attorney
In Illinois and Missouri, there are no limits on the percentage allowed as a contingency fee in personal injury cases, as long as the fee is considered “reasonable.” However, lawyers and clients must agree on a percentage and sign a written fee agreement in contingency fee cases before the attorney begins working on the case.
The amount your attorney charges will depend on the specific factors of your case, including:
- Expenses. Most personal injury lawyers will pay for expenses incurred throughout the case, such as court costs, accident scene investigation, hiring expert witnesses, travel expenses, mail and copying costs, and creation of court exhibits. These are usually paid back to the attorney after the case has been resolved.
- Effort. Tractor-trailer accidents can be extremely complex, involving the intersection of state and federal laws and the interpretation of trucking company regulations. This can require a lot of a law firm’s time and effort—and the more time devoted to the case, the higher the percentage an attorney may charge.
- Trial or settlement. Court cases can take much longer to resolve than cases that settle in negotiation. Law firms may include a stipulation in the fee agreement that allows them to collect a different amount based on whether the case settles or proceeds to trial.
Our attorneys have successfully represented individuals throughout Illinois and Missouri who have suffered serious personal injuries. We listen to your concerns and provide clear options for your next steps, giving you the personal attention you need throughout your case. Simply fill out the short contact form on this page to schedule an appointment for a free consultation, or download your FREE copy of one of our books, When the Rules of the Road Get Broken: A Guide to Illinois Car Wreck Cases or The Missouri Car Crash Guide: Don't Wreck Your Car Crash Case!
What are the penalties if an employer does not have workers’ compensation insurance?
The State of Illinois requires all public or private employers with at least one employee to secure valid workers’ compensation insurance to cover job-related injuries. If the employer does not obtain coverage, the business itself may face steep fines and closed doors, while the corporate officers may be held personally liable for damages.
Penalties for Employers Without Illinois Workers’ Compensation Insurance
One of the most important consequences for employers who fail to provide workers’ compensation coverage is the loss of the exclusive remedy protection. Under workers’ compensation law, employees are forbidden from suing an employer in exchange for benefits. However, if the employer did not secure workers’ compensation coverage, the employee is free to file a lawsuit directly against the employer. In addition, employers named in these lawsuits cannot use certain defenses (such as negligence of a co-employee) and the burden is on the employer to show freedom of negligence relating to the injury.
In addition to legal liability, employers who fail to obtain workers’ compensation coverage in Illinois may face:
- Work stoppage. Investigators with the Illinois Workers' Compensation Commission (IWCC) Insurance Compliance Division can issue a work-stop order on an employer for failure to secure workers’ compensation insurance. IWCC can request the intervention of state law enforcement to prevent any employee from occupying the place of employment until proof of insurance is provided and the work-stop order is lifted.
- Criminal charges. Illinois law allows individuals such as corporate officers, directors, partners, and members of an employer limited liability company to be charged with criminal acts and face personal liability for failing to provide workers’ compensation coverage. Individuals who knowingly violate the insurance requirement may be found guilty of a Class 4 felony, while those who negligently fail to provide coverage may be charged with a Class A misdemeanor.
- Fines. IWCC investigators may issue citations to employers for insurance non-compliance in an amount between $500 and $2,500, which must be paid in addition to providing proof of valid workers' compensation insurance. If the employer does not comply with the citation, the Commission may assess a civil penalty of up to $500 per day for each day without insurance, with a minimum fine of $10,000.
If you have suffered a work injury in Illinois, we can help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact the experienced workers' compensation attorneys at Tapella & Eberspacher today at (855) 522-5291 or fill out our online contact form to schedule your free consultation.
Do out-of-state employers have to provide Illinois workers’ compensation insurance if they have an employee in Illinois?
In most cases, yes. Although workers’ compensation laws vary from state to state, Illinois requires all companies with at least one employee in the state to be covered under Illinois workers’ compensation requirements. As long as the employee is not exempt from workers’ compensation benefits, the out-of-state employer is required to include Illinois-compliant benefits on its insurance policy.
When Out-of-State Employers Need Illinois Workers’ Compensation Coverage
Under Illinois law, an employer must purchase valid Illinois workers’ compensation insurance to cover:
- Remote employees who live in Illinois. An out-of-state employer must cover employees in Illinois, even if there is only one employee in Illinois and the company and all other employees are located in a different state.
- Employees whose majority of work takes place in Illinois. A company that is headquartered in another state but has a satellite office or factory in Illinois must provide workers’ compensation insurance that includes Illinois coverage.
- Business operations in Illinois. Out-of-state companies that conduct regular business in Illinois must provide a workers' compensation insurance policy that includes Illinois coverage, even if all workers reside in the same state as the company.
- Employees hired in Illinois. Any workers whose employment contracts were entered into in Illinois must be covered by Illinois workers’ compensation insurance.
- Work-related injuries that occur in Illinois. If an employee from an out-of-state company is injured while doing a work-related task in Illinois, he or she has the right to file a workers’ compensation claim in Illinois.
If you are eligible for Illinois workers’ compensation coverage, you have a right to collect benefits for an on-the-job injury regardless of where it occurs. Contact the experienced workers' compensation attorneys at Tapella & Eberspacher today at (855) 522-5291 or fill out our online contact form to schedule your free consultation.
Are there laws preventing commercial truckers from driving distracted?
Commercial truck drivers are not just expected to make their deliveries on time, they also have to complete a variety of non-driving activities to remain compliant with the law. Unfortunately, attempting to complete these actions while driving is a common form of distraction—especially if they involve cell phones or smartphones. Truckers may also attempt to pass the long hours behind the wheel by talking or texting, increasing the risk of an accident.
Laws Restricting Cell Phone Use for Commercial Truckers
Texting and talking on cell phones are a major source of distraction for drivers, including those hauling two-ton trailers. A truck driver who takes his eyes off the road for three seconds may not be able to stop to avoid a hazard, potentially leading to injuries and deaths to the passengers of smaller cars.
There are several laws in place that restrict cell phone use for truck drivers, including:
- Federal laws. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has banned texting and driving for operators of commercial motor vehicles (CMV). The law covers a variety of distracting behaviors that require “manually entering alphanumeric text into, or reading text from, an electronic device.” A trucker who is caught dialing a cell phone, entering text, reading messages, or even reaching for a phone can face a fine of up to $2,750 and suspension of his or her commercial driving license (CDL).
- Illinois laws. Illinois law prohibits drivers of both commercial and passenger vehicles from reading, writing, or sending text messages from behind the wheel when the vehicle is in motion. Commercial vehicle drivers are only permitted to talk on the phone if they are using an acceptable hands-free device. If commercial drivers are caught breaking this law, they may be ordered to pay a penalty fee of up to $2,750. If a distracted driving crash results in great bodily harm, disfigurement, or permanent disability, then the driver can be convicted of a Class A misdemeanor. However, if the accident results in the death of one or more victims, a driver can be convicted of a Class 4 felony and face a fine of up to $25,000 and between one and three years in prison.
- Missouri laws. Using a cell phone while driving is only illegal for Missouri bus drivers and drivers under the age of 21. However, commercial truckers are still bound by FMCSA laws restricting cell phone use even in states where electronic devices are permitted.
Even if the trucker’s specific actions were not illegal under state or federal laws, there are many driver distractions that can be seen as negligence. If the trucker was reading a paper map, typing directions into a navigation system, or watching a video on a portable device while driving, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries and loss of income. Simply fill out the short contact form on this page to schedule an appointment for a free consultation, or download your FREE copy of one of our books, When the Rules of the Road Get Broken: A Guide to Illinois Car Wreck Cases, or The Missouri Car Crash Guide: Don't Wreck Your Car Crash Case!
What is an Illinois premises liability case?
The term premises liability refers to the body of law that governs who is responsible for the costs of injuries on a property. Although the most common types of injuries in these cases are slips, trips, or falls, injuries can occur any number of ways—such as dog bites, swimming pool accidents, fires, entrapment (such as falling down a hole or suffering ground collapse), and exposure to toxic gases or chemicals.
Injuries and Owner Responsibilities in an Illinois Premises Liability Case
Each state creates and enforces its own premises liability laws, which are used to determine whose negligence caused the injury. The negligent party can then be held responsible for paying the injured party’s medical bills, rehabilitation costs, lost income, out-of-pocket expenses, pain and suffering, and other damages.
In Illinois, you may have a valid premises liability case if you were visiting a property as:
- An invitee. A property owner is responsible for providing a safe environment to customers, builders, concert-goers, repairmen, and anyone else who enters the property for business purposes. Since invitees are usually paid to attend or are performing a service, the property owner may be held liable for the cost of these victims’ injuries. For example, if someone is attacked or injured due to negligent security outside a nightclub, the nightclub owner may be ordered to cover the costs since he or she should have installed proper lighting and surveillance equipment.
- A licensee. Licensees are social guests, or those who have been invited onto a property for a single event or for a short period of time (such as a party). In Illinois, the law makes no distinction between invitees and licensees, and requires that owners provide the same high standard of care to all invited guests. This includes fixing any known problems or warning guests about unsafe conditions that could cause injury.
- A trespasser. While people who enter the land without permission are not owed the same duty of care as invited guests, landowners still have some responsibility to prevent injury to trespassers. In Illinois, owners are prohibited from injuring trespassers through “willful and wanton” conduct, such as setting traps or intentionally making the land unsafe to others.
The premises liability laws that apply in your case will depend on where the accident occurred. Our attorneys have offices in Illinois and Missouri, giving victims greater access to our injury expertise at no upfront cost. Simply fill out the short contact form on this page to schedule an appointment for your free consultation.
How long do I have to be employed to be eligible for workers’ comp?
While there are many things that can affect eligibility for Illinois workers’ compensation benefits, the length of employment generally isn’t one of them. Coverage is guaranteed on whether you are a non-exempt employee, so if you are covered, you qualify for benefits whether you have worked for an employer for 10 years or 10 days. However, there are some instances where workers’ compensation coverage can exist in a gray area—and insurers may wrongfully deny payment if employees don’t know their rights.
Non-Work Situations in Which Workers’ Compensation May Apply
If you are injured on your employer’s premises while performing your regular job duties, filing a workers’ compensation claim is usually straightforward. Unfortunately, those injured before or after a shift or away from the work environment may be required to prove the validity of their claims—and may be denied medical and wage loss benefits if they are unable to do so.
Some cases where it may be more difficult to get workers’ compensation benefits include injuries that occur:
- Off the clock. If you are attending an orientation or training session before your workday begins, or are injured on work premises before or after clocking out, you are likely still covered by workers’ compensation.
- Traveling to or from work. In most cases, daily commutes are not covered by workers’ compensation. However, if the employee was performing a work-related task as part of the commute (such as making a pickup or delivery), workers’ compensation covers the journey.
- Away from the main working environment. Injuries suffered outside the office, job site, or regular work location may be covered if they are in any way associated with the duties and performance of your job. This can include mandatory meetings as well as sponsored events like company picnics.
- Under coverage of multiple benefit providers. Some employees may be covered by more than one work injury compensation program, especially if they work in an occupation that involves the overlap of federal and state injury laws.
The important thing to remember is that workers’ compensation coverage applies to any injury that is work-related—no matter when or where it occurs. If you have been injured on the job, contact the experienced workers' compensation attorneys at Tapella & Eberspacher today at (855) 522-5291 or fill out our online contact form to schedule your free consultation.
What if my employer is retaliating against me for filing a workers’ compensation claim?
Workers' compensation laws do not only guarantee medical and lost wage payments to injured employees, they also prevent employees from being discriminated against for collecting benefits. If an employer is found guilty of discrimination, the employer can lose the “exclusive remedy” protection of workers' compensation, allowing the employee to directly sue the employer for damages.
Common Forms of Employer Retaliation in a Workers’ Compensation Case
The Illinois workers’ compensation system protects employees from many adverse actions in the workplace as a result of filing a benefits claim. The law protects injured employees from discrimination immediately after the injury occurs, covering them from adverse employment actions even before the formal workers' compensation claim is filed.
Common ways an employer may punish an employee for filing a claim include:
- Discharge. Terminating or laying off employees who exercise their rights under workers' compensation laws is expressly forbidden. This is known as "retaliatory discharge,” and is grounds for an employee to bring a civil action against his or her employer.
- Disciplinary action. Employees cannot be placed on leave or denied wages as a result of filing a benefits claim.
- Demotion. An employee who is forced out of his role or into another position may have a valid discrimination claim.
- Harassment. Employers may be guilty of retaliation if they discourage an employee from filing a claim, threaten termination, or otherwise harass the employee.
- Salary reduction. Employers may retaliate by forcing the employee to sacrifice sick hours, paid time off, pension benefits, and other earnings.
If you believe that your employer has unjustly terminated or discriminated against you for filing a workers' compensation claim, you may be able to sue your employer for lost wages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. In many cases, employers will often attempt to claim that the reason for the retaliation is unrelated to the filing of the claim. However, the law states that employees still have a valid claim if collecting workers’ compensation benefits was not the sole reason for the discharge.
Our experienced workers' compensation attorneys can evaluate your case and advise you on your next steps at no cost to you. Contact Tapella & Eberspacher today at (855) 522-5291 or fill out our online contact form to schedule your free consultation.