Every year, Missouri becomes a more dangerous place to drive a car. According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, for the year 2021, as of April, 233 people in Missouri died in motor vehicle accidents. This is a 9% increase from the same time period in 2020. In total, 989 people (including 126 pedestrians—the most in any year in Missouri) died in car accidents in 2020—a 12% increase from Missouri’s 2019 total of 881. Thousands more have been injured. These numbers have increased despite having fewer drivers on the road during the current pandemic.
Most car accidents in Missouri are caused by drivers being negligent:
- Exceeding the speed limit
- Being distracted while driving
- Impaired driving
- Texting while driving
As Missouri’s rate of car accidents continues to increase, so does the volume of car accident claims that are filed and paid out. According to Statista.com, in 2019, Missouri Insurance companies paid out more than $ 2,687,000.00 in private passenger auto insurance claims (21st highest of all states). California insurance companies paid out the most in claims ($19,828,000.00) while Vermont companies paid out the least ($220,000.00).
If you are involved in a car accident in Missouri, here are six things you should know about what to do after your crash and filing a claim for your injuries.
When Should You Call the Police After a Car Accident?
When you are involved in a car accident, the first thing you should do is determine if you or anyone else is injured. If you are able, offer assistance to others who are injured and make sure you are out of any further danger.
If your car accident involved any sort of personal injury or property damage to:
- A passenger in your car
- Another driver
- A passenger of another driver, or
- A pedestrian,
then, after everyone is safe, you should call the police immediately after the accident. A police officer will come to the scene to provide assistance to anyone who is injured and make a written report of the accident.
Be sure to obtain a copy of the police report, especially if you plan to file a claim for damages. The police report likely will contain evidence that may be helpful to you in proving your claim, such as:
- Statements made by the other driver
- A description of any apparent injuries
- Witness statements
- A description of the damage to the vehicles
- The existing road conditions
- The presence of traffic signs
- An observation of apparent injuries
It could even contain the police officer’s opinion about the cause of the accident and whether any citations were issued to other drivers who may have violated any driving laws. The police officer also will make sure to obtain all of the parties’ contact and insurance information. All of this information may be helpful to you in filing your car accident claim.
When Should You Contact a Car Accident Attorney?
You should contact a car accident attorney as soon as possible, even if you are still at the scene of the accident. Immediately after an accident, you likely will be scared, confused, stressed, or even injured. But this can be a critical time for collecting evidence and being mindful of your surroundings. Having a car accident attorney to call from the scene of the accident can be extremely helpful in your claim for damages. Your attorney can advise you about what to do, what to say (or not say), and who to speak to (or not speak to).
If you cannot call your car accident attorney from the scene of the accident, you should contact one as soon as possible. You should consult with an experienced car accident attorney who knows how a car accident case works and has experience determining fault, negotiating with insurance companies, and taking your car accident case to trial, if necessary.
How Do You Determine Who Was at Fault in a Car Accident?
When you consult with your attorney, you will discuss the possibility of filing a claim against the party who was at fault. Often, this is clear. For example, if an intoxicated driver fails to slow down at a red light and hits the back of your vehicle while you are stopped at the light, the intoxicated driver clearly is at fault. But determining fault is not always so clear.
Often, each party will claim that the other party was at fault. Sometimes, both parties can be at fault. For example, one driver may pass through an intersection, while the light is green, at an excessive rate of speed, well over the speed limit. At the same time, a bicyclist may enter the same intersection, while their light is red, because they are not paying attention. If the cyclist rides into the speeding car and is injured, both parties may claim that the other party was at fault. In fact, they both may have contributed to the accident by being negligent. Your attorney will help you determine who was at fault by collecting evidence about how the accident happened, what the drivers were doing, and what conditions may have added to the cause of the accident. Even when both drivers are at fault, either party may still file a claim for damages in Missouri.
With respect to the issue of fault, Missouri applies a rule known as "pure comparative fault." This means that even if both parties in an accident contributed to the cause of the accident, each can still recover for their damages, but their damages will be limited or reduced by the percentage of fault that is attributed to them. For example, suppose the damages you suffered from your accident amounted to $10,000, but you were 20% responsible for causing the accident. In this case, your damages would be reduced by 20% ($2,000), and you would receive an award of $8,000 from the other party. At the same time, even though the other party was 80% responsible for the accident, you will be responsible for 20% of their total damages since you were 20% responsible for causing the accident.
There is no rule, however, for determining what percentage of fault each party is responsible for. That depends on the facts of the case and how easily you can convince a claims adjuster, court, or jury that the other party was at fault. This is why it is important to have an experienced car accident attorney who knows how to collect relevant evidence, identify negligence, and demonstrate fault to a jury.
When Should You File a Claim Following a Car Accident?
Every state sets a time limit before which you must file your car accident claim if you want to recover damages for your injuries. This is called a “statute of limitations.” Each state can set its own statute of limitations.
Missouri has two different statutes of limitations (or two different time limits for filing a lawsuit) depending on whether someone was injured or killed in the car accident. If someone was injured in a car accident, they have 5 years after the accident to file a lawsuit for damages. If someone was killed in a car accident, the appropriate party must bring their claim for their loss within 3 years of the date of the accident. You should consult with an experienced car accident attorney to be sure you file your claim on time.
In general, it is usually a good idea to file your claim as soon as possible after the accident, provided you and your attorney have enough evidence to support your case. Usually, people remember the facts of their case more clearly the closer it is to the time of the accident. As time goes on, memories fade, witnesses relocate, and insurance companies become less likely to settle your case for a reasonable amount. Having an experienced car accident attorney will help you to collect evidence and prepare your case for a strong negotiation with the insurance company as soon as possible.
How Should You Deal with the Insurance Company?
Despite all the commercials you see on television showing insurance adjusters bending over backwards to offer their customers as much money for their claims as possible, the reality is that an insurance company is a business and its goal is to make money. And insurance companies make money by denying fault, valuing claims as low as possible, and reaching the lowest settlement they can get an injured victim to accept. If you entertain settlement offers from an insurance adjuster without an attorney, you risk losing a significant amount of compensation that you are otherwise entitled to receive.
When you are injured and have medical bills piling up, it is easy to want to settle your case quickly and avoid having the insurance process drag out over a long period of time. Insurance adjusters, who get paid for saving the insurance company money, know this and will either deny your claim or make an initial offer that is much lower than what your actual claim is worth. You should not accept any offer from the insurance company until you speak with an experienced car accident attorney who is skilled at negotiating with insurance companies. Your attorney will make sure you receive the most compensation you are entitled to for your injuries. And because insurance companies don’t like to deal with skilled attorneys, they are more likely to settle your case quickly at an amount that will compensate you fairly for your injuries.
What Are the Common Damages You Can Recover After a Car Accident?
If another party caused your accident and you suffered injuries, you have a right to financial recovery for those injuries. But you are not just entitled to recover for medical bills. Your recovery can include all past or future losses that you suffer as a result of the other driver’s negligence.
Your recovery may include economic damages, such as:
Even if you are not physically injured in your accident, you still can recover the cost of any damage to your personal property. This could include damage to:
- Your vehicle (including the cost of a rental vehicle)
- Any other personal property in the car
- Clothes you were wearing during the accident
Damages from physical injuries:
If you are physically injured in your accident, you are entitled to recover any costs you have to pay to treat your injuries. These may include:
- The cost for emergency medical services or an ambulance at the scene of the accident
- Emergency room treatment or initial medical exam at the hospital
- X-rays, MRIs, CAT-Scans, or other diagnostic tests
- The cost of your hospital room if you have to remain in the hospital
- Doctor fees and other medical bills
- The cost of prescription medication
Ongoing and future economic damages:
Some injuries from car accidents are minor and heal quickly. Often, however, injuries can be quite serious and recovery can be long-term. Expenses associated with these injuries can be significant. You are entitled to recover damages for these injuries as well. Your recovery can include the cost of:
- Follow-up doctor visits
- Rehabilitation or physical therapy
- Prescription medication
- Lost wages
- Lost earning potential
Sometimes the most serious damages you suffer after a car accident are not financial losses but emotional or non-economic damage. These can include:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of quality of life
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium (loss of companionship or relationship)
Valuing and proving all of these damages is difficult. You should not try to negotiate these damages with an insurance company or prove these damages in court without an experienced car accident attorney.
Why You Need an Experienced Car Accident Attorney
There are many important aspects of filing a car accident claim. Only a few are discussed here. However, even if you know:
- What to do immediately after a car accident
- The importance of a police report
- Who was at fault
- When to file your claim
- How to deal with insurance companies
- How to value your injuries, and
- How to prove damages,
you should contact an experienced car accident attorney to assist you with all of these important steps to recovering full compensation for your injuries.