FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT PERSONAL INJURY IN MISSOURI
WHAT IS THE DEADLINE FOR FILING MISSOURI PERSONAL INJURY LAWSUITS?
Missouri, like other states, has a statute of limitations that affects how long you have to file a court case after an injury. In Missouri, the time limit on bringing a personal injury claim to civil court is five years. If you do not get your lawsuit started by filing a civil complaint within five years, the court will almost certainly refuse to hear your case at all.
CAN I STILL RECOVER IF I WAS PARTIALLY AT FAULT?
Like other states, Missouri has a rule that applies to cases in which the injured person is found to share part of the fault for the underlying accident.
Missouri uses a legal doctrine called pure comparative negligence to assign fault. Thus, if the injured party was also negligent, the original negligent party is only liable for the percentage of damages he or she caused. For example, if you are in a car accident where the person who hit you ran a red light while you were speeding, the jury can find that running the red light was 80 percent negligent while your speeding was 20 percent negligent. You will only be rewarded 80 percent of your total damages
IS THERE A LIMIT TO HOW MUCH I CAN RECOVER?
Some states have laws that “cap,” or limit, damages in personal injury cases. Caps vary from state to state, but popular caps include limits on non-economic “pain and suffering” damages and limits in medical malpractice injury cases.
Missouri currently has no caps in place on damages in personal injury cases. A cap for medical malpractice damages was enacted in 2005, but was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2012.
INSURANCE POLICY LIMITS
Quite possibly the most crushing aspect of personal injury claim or lawsuit is the insurance policy limit. You might think that your claim is worth more than a million bucks, and then your attorney sits you down and says that the other driver was underinsured – the limit is only $25,000, which barely covers your medical bills. Once your attorney’s paid and the fees are reimbursed, you’re going to end up with chump change. You’re in so much pain, and it was all for nothing.
You do have the option to file a court case against the driver for negligence, but keep in mind that an underinsured or uninsured motorist is probably not going to have much in assets. What are you going to collect against? This is why it is so important for you to spend a little extra for both uninsured and underinsured coverage, so that you can collect from your own insurance company as well.
IS A DOG OWNER LIABLE IF THEIR DOG ATTACKS SOMEONE?
In many states, dog owners are protected from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a “one bite” rule. In Missouri however, the owner is “strictly liable”, meaning regardless of the animal’s past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog. Specifically, the statute reads:
“The owner or possessor of any dog that bites, without provocation, any person while such person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner or possessor of the dog, is strictly liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s or possessor’s knowledge of such viciousness.”
WHAT STEPS SHOULD I TAKE IF SOMEONE CAUSES ME INJURY?
- Only give general information: driver’s license information, insurance agent contact, and anything required by law enforcement or medical professionals to ensure the situation is safe. Do NOT admit fault.
- Do not confront the other party of the accident in an emotional or hostile fashion. Even if you’re not at fault, you can still prejudice any auto accident claim by your actions AFTER the accident.
- Take care of your injuries immediately
- Document all injuries and any damage to property (get copies of accident reports, take pictures, keep receipts and invoices, keep notes of new symptoms, document time off from work, etc.)
- Get information from witnesses (phone numbers, addresses, statements, etc.)
- Contact a lawyer
- Do not give any statements to anyone other than the police before speaking with a lawyer
- Do not sign any releases of liability or potential claims before speaking with a lawyer
DO I HAVE A CASE?
This is often the first question attorneys are asked, and can best be answered by consulting with an experienced injury attorney.
HOW MUCH IS MY CASE WORTH?
This is usually the second question attorneys are asked. For injury cases, the basic rule is that the settlement should roughly equal the extent and intensity of injuries. This sounds easy enough, but it is notoriously, sometimes discouragingly, vague.
These are a few types of damages for which you could potentially recover:
ECONOMIC DAMAGES – costs of medical treatment, estimated future medical treatment, lost earnings, future lost earnings, property damage, out-of-pocket expenses.
Best ways to keep track of expenses
The best way to get the most out of a settlement is to be proactive. Take charge of your own case and know where your money is going – don’t just leave it to your attorney to figure out. While you’re recovering from your injuries it’s vitally important to keep receipts for all “out-of-pocket” expenses related to your injuries. These expenses can include: prescriptions, over the counter medications, bandages, doctor or hospital parking lot fees, and apportioned gasoline purchases. If you have lost time from work, you should contact your employer and request a letter confirming the amount of wages you lost from the date of the injury until the present. There is no format or special form for doing so. The information should be on your employer’s letterhead, as detailed as possible and signed by the supervisor with the highest authority.
Keeping your paperwork organized is essential to handling your injury claim effectively.
The best way to do this is to make an Excel spreadsheet with columns designating the payee, the amount, the dates that bills are due and whether they are paid (and by whom – you or your health insurance company, because you’ll need to track whether you have been reimbursed). Then you can also scan in the relevant bills so that everything is kept in a file on your computer. That way, everything can be emailed to your attorney, and you also have a backup on your computer.
Your attorney will also be accumulating copies of all of your medical charts, medical bills, and eventually medical narratives for your diagnosis and prognosis.
NON-ECONOMIC DAMAGES – pain and suffering, emotional distress, inconvenience, loss of consortium (companionship of husband, wife or partner), loss of enjoyment of life. These items are simply not objectively quantifiable.
Their value will be low or high depending on specific facts in your case:
- Severity of your injuries
- Medical treatment you have received to date
- How much treatment you anticipate needing in the future
- Prognosis (are you expected to recover?)
- Permanent or long-lasting effects?
- Impact on your daily life
Thus, the value of your non-economic damages will obviously be much greater for extraordinary cases in which there is permanent disability, recovery is prolonged, the injuries are immediately apparent and so on.
Be Aware of Big Brother
While recovering from your injuries the last thing you want to do is be active. For example, after a week recovering a man may start feeling bad he hasn’t been able to throw the ball around with his young son, or help his wife while she goes food shopping.
Although it’s not very likely you’re being watched by the insurance company, the possibility does remain. It will be very difficult to negotiate a claim for pain and suffering if the adjuster has video of you changing a tire or lifting groceries out of your car. These days with high quality cell phone video technology there’s always a chance someone might record you being active.
Were You Partially At Fault?
Make sure to take into consideration whether you were a factor in your own injuries. Were you not wearing a seatbelt? Did you walk into traffic? Were you negligently using machinery? Think long and hard about that. You’ll need to be honest with your attorney because Missouri recognizes comparative fault, which will reduce (offset) your recovery.
PUNITIVE DAMAGES – punishment.
- Punitive damages may be awarded when the behavior of the person that injured the victim was grossly negligent or willful, meaning the person knew or should have known of the high likelihood of injury. Even when awarded by a jury, however, the court will review the punitive amount, which could be reduced. Under current law*, there is a two-step process for determining the constitutionality of a punitive damages award on a claim in Missouri. First, the court must determine if the cause of action was one that existed prior to 1820. If the cause of action existed in 1820, then the Court cannot constitutionally apply a statutory cap to limit the punitive damages. If the cause of action did not exist prior to 1820 — as an example, a statutorily created cause of action such as the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act – then a punitive damages cap can be constitutionally applied.
- Whether a cap applies or not, the defendant is further entitled to an analysis of the constitutionality of the resulting punitive damages award under the due process clause of the U. S. Constitution. The United States Supreme Court requires courts to consider three factors (1) the reprehensibility of the defendant’s misconduct; (2) the disparity between the harm and the punitive damages award; and (3) the difference between the punitive damages award and penalties authorized or imposed in similar cases. BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 574-75 (1996).
*State and federal laws in the United States are constantly changing. This guide is intended solely for informational purposes and should not take the place of the advice of a lawyer. Only a qualified attorney can assess the merits of your case completely and provide an effective plan for counsel.
DOES MISSOURI HAVE LIMITS OR CAPS ON THE AMOUNT I CAN RECOVER?
Generally, there are no limitations on damages you receive that compensate you for your injuries (such as reimbursement for medical expenses and lost wages), although some limitations do exist in certain situations. However, your estimation of damages must be reasonably certain, especially for those damages projected for the future, such as future medical expenses or future lost wages. (See section on punitive damages, above).
HOW IS FAULT DETERMINED WHEN A VEHICLE STRIKES A PEDESTRIAN?
The driver of a vehicle must stop and yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk when the pedestrian has reached the halfway point of the crosswalk, or when the pedestrian is approaching so closely from the opposite half of the crosswalk as to be in danger. Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 300.375.1
WHAT IF THE PEDESTRIAN IS NOT IN THE CROSSWALK?
Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway. Pedestrians must use only the marked crosswalk to cross between two adjacent intersections that have traffic-control signals in operation. Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 300.390.1
No pedestrian is allowed to cross a roadway other than in a crosswalk in any business district or on any street designated by law. No pedestrian is allowed to cross a roadway intersection diagonally unless authorized by official traffic control devices. Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 300.395.1
Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway. Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the left side of the roadway or on it’s shoulder facing traffic from the opposite direction. Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 300.405.1
No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to yield. Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 300.375.1
WHAT IF THE PEDESTRIAN IS IN THE CROSSWALK, BUT WALKS AGAINST THE SIGNAL?
Pedestrians must obey instructions on any traffic-control device specifically applicable, unless otherwise directed by a police officer. Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 300.370
IF A PEDESTRIAN BREAKS ONE OF THE ABOVE RULES, IS IT AUTOMATICALLY THEIR FAULT IF A VEHICLE STRIKES THEM?
Not necessarily. Remember, Missouri has comparative fault. Both the pedestrian and the driver have duties. The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the driver’s horn when necessary and shall exercise proper precaution upon observing any child or any confused or incapacitated person. Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 300.410
IS IT TRUE THAT I AM SUPPOSED TO DRIVE IN THE RIGHT-HAND LANE?
Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:
- When passing another driver in the same direction
- When there is an obstruction in the right lane
- Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 304.015.1
IS IT LEGAL TO PASS ON THE RIGHT?
Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:
- When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
- When the roadway has two (2) or more lines of traffic moving in the same direction.
- On a one-way street where the roadway is free from obstructions and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles.
- Upon a highway outside of the city with unobstructed pavement of sufficient width and clearly marked for four or more lines of traffic.
Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 304.016.1
WHAT ARE MISSOURI’S LAWS ABOUT DRIVERS USING MOBILE ELECTRONIC DEVICES?
Drivers of commercial motor vehicles and drivers who are twenty-one (21) years of age or younger must not drive while using a hand-held mobile electronic device, except for the sole purpose of calling 911.
Exceptions to this law include persons who are reporting an illegal activity, who are preventing injury to a person or property, or who are relaying information between a transit or for-hire operator and their dispatcher using a device that is permanently attached to the vehicle. Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 304.820
DOES MISSOURI HAVE A MOTORCYCLE HELMET LAW?
All motorcyclists must wear helmets while riding on roadways. Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 302.020.2
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF INVOLVED IN A SERIOUS CAR WRECK?
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person, including other drivers, passengers, and/ or passersby must give their name, address and the registration number of the car they are driving and their driver’s license number to any person injured in the accident, or to a police officer or the nearest police station of judicial officer.
Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance, including making of arrangements to transfer the injured person to a physician, surgeon, or hospital for medical or surgical treatment if it is apparent medical treatment is required.
Leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident is class A misdemeanor but becomes a class D felony if the accident resulted in injury, property damage in excess of one thousand ($1000) dollars, or if the driver has previously pled guilty or have been found guilty of this same offense. Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 577.060 and Section 302.0600
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF THE WRECK CAUSES SERIOUS INJURY?
A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death of any person must immediately stop and remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has fulfilled the requirements of Section 302.0600.
Section 302.0600 reads in part that the driver must give their name, address the registration number of the car they are driving, and their driver’s license number to any person injured in the accident or a police officer.
HOW MUCH INSURANCE COVERAGE AM I REQUIRED TO HAVE?
In the State of Missouri, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:
- At least $25,000 per person
- At least $50,000 for injury to two (2) or more people
- $10,000 per occurrence for property damage
Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 303.190
DOES MISSOURI HAVE A NO-FAULT INSURANCE RULE?
Missouri prescribes to liability insurance and does not prescribe to no-fault insurance. A driver can file a claim under their own insurance policy, pursue a claim against the other driver’s insurance policy, and/or file a lawsuit against the other driver. Revised Statutes of Missouri Section 303.190
INJURY CLAIMS AND LAWSUITS GET PERSONAL…
Your attorney should make you aware and ready to answer some personal questions that you may think have nothing to do with your injury claim.
An example of a question you are sure to be asked is if you were taking any prescribed medication that day; or if you had that day, or the night before, personally ingested any illegal narcotics. You will also likely be asked if you’d been drinking any alcohol the night before or the day of the injury.
The adjuster will continue to refer to the injury as the “incident,” or the “accident,” but you can be sure she will never refer to it as an “collision” or “crash”, or even “wreck”.
SHOULD I EMBELLISH THE FACTS TO GET THE MOST RECOVERY?
Too many people, in an effort to do what they think will bolster their injury claim, try to exaggerate facts, add facts, omit facts, and worse lie about them – even to their attorney!. Doing so is the fastest way to damage your chances of an optimal injury settlement. The facts are the facts. Describe them emotionally, but don’t change them.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO RESOLVE MY CASE AND GET MONEY?
Weeks and maybe months will pass as you are getting better. During your recovery your lawyer will be collecting medical updates from your physicians. He or she will also be working on many other cases. As you begin to approach full recovery it will be time to begin negotiating a settlement of your case. Your attorney and the adjuster or insurance attorney will need to know the full nature and extent of your injuries, and all treatment must be concluded (or future treatment quantified) in order to assess the full value of your claim.
WILL THE OTHER DRIVER’S INSURANCE PAY MY MEDICAL BILLS AS THEY COME DUE?
No. While you may believe, and it may be absolutely true, that the other driver caused your injuries, their insurance company will pay your claim only once – at the very end. They will require a full release of any further liability from you before making this payment. Some injuries require months or years of treatment or therapy before the case is “ripe” for settlement negotiations. Meanwhile, all the doctors and medical providers need to be paid. Hopefully, you have your own health insurance, which is contractually bound to provide its coverage for your injuries. However, depending on your policy type and language, they may pay under a right of reimbursement, or subrogation – in which case they will expect to be reimbursed out of your final settlement proceeds.
WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE?
During your recovery the medical bills will continue to grow. When attorneys are representing clients in your position the attorneys, in an effort to stop collection letters, harassing telephone calls, and the like send what are called “Letters of Protection” or “LOP’s” to medical providers and other creditors.
Letters of Protection are legal agreements between attorneys and medical creditors. In return for creditors agreeing to wait to be paid without sending late notices and the like to their clients, the attorneys guarantee first payment to the medical creditors at the time the dog bite settlement funds are dispersed, even before paying any money to the client.