Worst Nightmare Scenario on I-57

The fates of a car carrying 4 young people on their way home at night, a drunk driver, and a truck driver intersected at every motorist’s worst nightmare. Traveling southbound along I-57 in Illinois at midnight, a car crosses the grassy median, and collides into a car approaching in the opposite direction.  Seconds later, that car is plowed into by a semi tractor-trailer.

Drunk Driving Kills

The ensuing police investigation and autopsy findings revealed that the car crossing over into northbound I-57 was driven by a man in his early 30’s with blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit.  That man was pronounced dead at the scene. One of the occupants of the northbound car, sitting in the front passenger seat, the mother of an infant baby sitting in a baby carrier in the back seat, was able to get out of the car after the first impact, and tried unsuccessfully to extract her infant baby , before the car was again struck by a semi-tractor trailer. 

Deadly Second-Impact Collision

The second impact caused the baby to be thrown out of the car, in critical condition.  The other back seat occupant, a young woman 19 years old, was killed, undetermined if from the first or second crash.  The two adult survivors of the northbound car sustained fractures requiring hospitalization. One required surgery to repair a fractured arm.  The driver sustained multiple compression fractures of his spine.  The infant suffered respiratory trauma, requiring prolonged intubation, a feeding tube and months in specialized hospitals.  The infant’s prognosis, 8 months post accident, is uncertain.

Homeowners Umbrella Insurance Provides Additional Coverage

As the actions of the drunk driver crossing over into oncoming traffic was so indefensible, the attorneys at Lipkin & Apter decided to focus initially on resolving the first crash before turning attention to the second crash (caused by the semi-tractor trailer).  Investigation revealed that the deceased driver carried motor vehicle liability insurance with $500,000 limits.  Further investigation revealed that this driver lived at home, where his parents carried a homeowner’s umbrella policy of insurance with $1,000,000 limits. An umbrella policy provides for payment of accident claims over and above ordinary car insurance.  To qualify for for an umbrella policy that covers accident claims, underlying motor vehicle limits must be of a certain amount, generally $250,000 and above. A separate premium is paid for homeowners umbrella coverage. As a resident of his parent’s home, the umbrella coverage extended to the car crash.  After a brief negotiation, Lipkin & Apter was able to obtain payment of $1,500,000 to resolve the case against the deceased, drunk driver.

Under Illinois law 735 ILCS 5/2-1008:

If a person against whom an action has been brought dies, and the cause of action survives, his or her personal representative shall be substituted as a party. If no petition has been filed for letters of office for the deceased's estate, the court, upon the motion of a person bringing an action and after the notice to the party's heirs or legatees as the court directs and without opening an estate, may appoint a special representative for the deceased party for the purposes of defending the action. If a party elects to have a special representative appointed under this paragraph (2), the recovery shall be limited to the proceeds of any liability insurance.

In this case, the drunk driver died intestate (without a will) and so the Court had to appoint a special representative for the case to commence, as you cannot sue a deceased person. Only their estate, or through a special representative

$1,500,000 Settlement Distribution

 There are multiple parties who will share in the settlement proceeds of the $1,500,000- the two injured adults, the infant (after appointment of a guardian) and the family (or next of kin) of the deceased 19 yr old woman.  In instances of injury to a minor, or a wrongful death case, the Court must approve settlement, and distribution of case proceeds. In addition, any sum in excess of $10,000 for the benefit of a minor must be placed into a special account approved of by the Court until the minor becomes 18 years of age.  Distributions of the minor’s funds can only occur with Court approval. 

Next: The Semi-tractor Crash

Lipkin & Apter will next turn attention to the case against the semi-tractor trailer driver/company, for the second crash.  This litigation is expected to last multiple years.