This year saw a glacial shift in the law in Illinois. Before year’s end, Illinois will marry it’s first same-sex couple. Illinois will begin implementing it’s medical marijuana scheme starting on New Year’s Day. Two different penalty schemes will be implemented for speeding in a work zone, depending on whether there are workers present. And drivers may no longer speak on hand-held cell phones while driving.
The City of Chicago has had a ban on driving while talking on a hand-held device since 2006. Over 70 other municipalities in Illinois have similar prohibitions. On August 16, Governor Quinn signed a bill that makes it a crime throughout the State. The penalty is a mere traffic citation, $75 for the first offense with an increase in fine for subsequent offenses. This may seem like an acceptable loss to some. However, another statute going into effect should serve as a warning to would-be scofflaws who intend to be careless and ignore the cell phone ban. Effective January 1st, the crime of using a cell phone while driving is aggravated if a driver is using a hand-held cell phone that causes an accident that results in great bodily harm or death. Great bodily harm will result in a Class A misdemeanor, and death will result in a Class 4 felony. This creates a disincentive for drivers to use their phones, but it may also make suing for personal injury after a car accident easier for plaintiffs and their attorneys.
Negligence Elements and Proving Breach of Duty
Every lawsuit for negligence (including personal injury resulting from an automobile accident) requires the plaintiff to establish five elements to move forward. This is called establishing a prima facie case, and failure to establish any one element will result in dismissal. The elements are:
- Breach of Duty;
- Cause in Fact;
- Proximate Cause; and
In short, everyone has a duty to act as a reasonable, prudent person would in similar circumstances. If you are driving down a highway, you have a duty to do so reasonably under the circumstances. This includes observing a safe and reasonable speed limit, adjusting your turns and lane changes to be safe in under current weather conditions, and obeying traffic signals. If you breach this duty and that breach causes a foreseeable injury to someone, you are liable for that injury and can successfully be sued for it. Establishing breach of duty is often a question of fact that a judge or jury must determine. Another way to establish breach of duty, however, is violation of a statute. If a statute is in place to protect a certain class of people, and the injured party in the accident is a member of that class, the violation of the statute can be used to establish a breach of duty. Under the new law, the protected class is other motorists, passengers, and pedestrians. If a driver violates the cell phone use law and injures another, the law can be used to establish a breach.