In this Article
Many clients wonder whether the severity of damage to their vehicle or the defendant’s vehicle impacts their personal injury claim and the ultimate value of the case. Under Illinois law, the short answer is NO according to the Illinois State Bar Association’s article on the Admissibility of vehicle impact photographs. However, the reality is somewhat different. The fact is that most insurance adjusters, defense attorneys, judges and jurors will look to the degree of damage to the plaintiff’s vehicle when determining whether to award damages and, if so, how much.
Yes and no. In a perfect world, the damage to a Plaintiff’s vehicle would be completely irrelevant. This makes sense because the damage to the rear of a compact vehicle may appear remarkably worse than the damage to the rear of a pickup truck, yet these damages do not necessarily confirm the speed of the other driver, or how the impact affected the plaintiff’s body inside the vehicle.
The applicable medical literature shows that there is no direct correlation between the amount of property damage in a motor vehicle accident and the severity of injuries sustained. It is axiomatic that a person in a relatively minor accident can sustain serious, permanent injuries, while a person in a substantial collision can walk away unscathed. The concept of the eggshell plaintiff neatly explains this principle.
The eggshell plaintiff doctrine states that a defendant takes the victim as he or she finds him. In reality, this means that the at-fault driver is not just responsible for new injuries caused by the accident, but for aggravations to preexisting conditions that the plaintiff experienced due to the collision.
Take for example an elderly driver. The elderly driver is stopped at a red light when he is rear-ended at 10 mph by a defendant. There is a minor dent in the rear of elderly driver’s vehicle. However, the elderly driver recently underwent a procedure on his lower back and the impact caused an aggravation requiring a second surgery. In this context, the limited property damage to the rear of the plaintiff’s vehicle would fail to demonstrate the extent of the plaintiff’s injuries. Under the eggshell plaintiff doctrine, the defendant is liable for the elderly man’s substantial injuries even though the same impact would likely not have caused severe injuries to a younger person.
While the eggshell plaintiff principle (where the condition of the injured party before the accident is taken into consideration) is firmly entrenched and accepted as the applicable rule when it comes to property damage, the reality in personal injury litigation is somewhat different. The reality is that adjusters, judges, and jurors look at the property damage when determining whether to make an award for the plaintiff, and if so, how much.
While insurance adjusters understand the principle of the eggshell plaintiff, they often will rely on limited property damage in denying a claim or making a low offer. After an accident occurs, your Bloomington personal injury lawyer will collect medical records, medical bills, a copy of the police report, wage loss documentation, and photographs of damages to the vehicle. The insurance company will invariably request all of the above before agreeing to evaluate the claim for settlement.
For example, if a healthy 25-year-old is involved in a rear-end accident with limited or nonexistent damage, and if that same 25-year-old is claiming substantial injuries, it is almost certain that the adjuster will deny the claim based on lack of impact or make a low offer. The rationale frequently provided is that it is unlikely that the claimed injuries were sustained in such a low impact accident. Once the adjuster has denied the claim or made a low offer, the car accident lawyers handling your case will file a lawsuit.
While one might think that the courts would follow the eggshell plaintiff doctrine more consistently than insurance adjusters, the reality is that judges and jurors also look to the extent of the property damage in a given case when evaluating case value.
In pretrial settlement conferences, the presiding judge will invariably ask about the nature of the property damage from the accident. He or she will request copies of the photographs and will rely on those property damage photos when making a settlement recommendation. Moreover, if the case is unable to settle and proceeds to trial, the defense counsel will attempt to submit photographs of the limited property damage to the jurors.
In recent years, Illinois courts have rejected plaintiffs’ motions in limine to exclude photographs demonstrating limited or nonexistent property damage in motor vehicle trials. This was not always the case. For example, in Dicosola v. Bowman, the First District Appellate Court found that a defendant needed expert testimony to argue there was a correlation between the amount of damage and the claimed injury. 342 Ill.App.3d (1st Dist. 2003). However, subsequent appellate rulings have found that it is in the discretion of the trial judge to determine whether the property photo damages will be admitted into evidence and viewed by the jury.
In short, it is likely that jurors in Illinois will see and rely upon property damage photographs when determining the value of a case at trial.
Although the amount of damage to one’s vehicle in a personal injury accident should not affect the value of the case under the well-accepted eggshell plaintiff doctrine, the reality is that adjusters, judges, and jurors will rely on property damage photographs when determining the value of a case.
If you or your loved one has been involved in an accident, or if you have any property damage questions, call the Kryder Law Group, LLC. immediately for your free consultation. Our experienced Chicago personal injury lawyers will answer your questions and help maximize the payout in your case.