If you were involved in a car wreck and file a lawsuit against the other driver, you are going to learn about or hear a few terms that you likely haven’t heard in your life.  We at the personal injury law firm of Foster Wallace, LLC put together a short list of terms that you should be aware of when filing a lawsuit in either Kansas or Missouri involving your car wreck:

Plaintiff and Defendant

car accident attorneysThe plaintiff and the defendant are sometimes called the “parties” in the case. In civil cases, including personal injury cases, the plaintiff is the person or company seeking payment of money (or some other action or piece of property) from the defendant. In a personal injury lawsuit, if you are the injured person, you are the plaintiff.  Most of the time, the defendant is the driver or owner of the vehicle that you allege caused the accident. Your lawyer can advise you about whether there are other parties you should include as defendants because these parties are legally responsible for causing your accident or failing to prevent it.

Economic and Noneconomic Damages

In a personal injury lawsuit, the money you are requesting from the defendant is called “damages.” All car accident lawsuits involve economic damages, which is money that the defendant pays you to reimburse you for your accident-related financial losses. Even if you have fully recovered physically from your injuries, you are at least asking the defendant to reimburse you for your medical bills or lost income. Sometimes “economic damages” can reach hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars when a car accident left the plaintiff permanently disabled because they include many years of future medical treatment and future lost income.  Noneconomic damages, however, are compensation for the accident-related losses that do not have a dollar value. They include emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life. 

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations is the deadline for filing a lawsuit in relation to an accident. If the deadline has passed by the time you sue, the court will automatically reject your lawsuit. In Missouri, the statute of limitations for filing a car accident is five years from the date of the accident. In Kansas, the statute of limitations in a car accident case is two years from the date of the accident.

Maximum Medical Improvement

While the term “maximum medical improvement” sounds like it would mean good news, it is a term that no patient wants to hear. It means that you have recovered from your injuries as much as you are going to, and you cannot realistically expect to get any better. If you still have symptoms after your doctor determines that you have reached maximum medical improvement, it means that whatever symptoms you still have are likely to be permanent.

As disappointing as it is to hear a doctor tell you that you will never again be able to regain the level of athleticism that you enjoyed before the accident, or even be able to walk long distances without experiencing pain, knowing what maximum medical improvement looks like for you can give you a sense of clarity when approaching a personal injury lawsuit. For one thing, it enables you to estimate your future medical expenses. Your doctor will let you know what kinds of treatment you will need to manage your chronic condition, and based on that, you can estimate the cost. Once you have reached maximum medical improvement, you can assess your ability to work. If, before the accident, you held a manual labor job that you can no longer do after reaching maximum medical improvement, you might need to retrain for a different profession.  Even at your new job, you might not be able to earn as much as you would have without the injury. You can use this information to calculate your future lost income, which you can also include in your request for damages.

Pre-Existing Conditions

In a personal injury lawsuit, the plaintiff argues that his or her injuries are the result of the accident caused by the defendant, and the defendant argues that they are not. Sometimes it is easy to prove your case; if the police report says that the accident occurred at 9:45, and at 10:15 you arrived at the emergency room, where you received treatment for a broken leg, the defendant can hardly make a convincing argument that something other than the accident caused your injury. Other times, though, things are less clear-cut. For example, you might suffer frequent back aches months or even years after the accident, and your request for future medical expenses might include the cost of frequent visits to physical therapists and chiropractors. The defendant might argue that your back pain is not a result of the car accident, but rather from a work injury you suffered years earlier.

Comparative Negligence

In Missouri law, comparative negligence means that the court does not simply decide which driver was at fault for the accident because accidents are usually not entirely the fault of one person. Instead, it decides which percentage of the fault for the accident each party bears. You can still win a lawsuit if you were partly at fault for the accident, but the court considers your percentage of fault when deciding how much money to award you. It often reduces the amount of damages you are seeking by the percentage of fault you bear in the accident.

A Preponderance of the Evidence

In personal injury lawsuits, as in all civil lawsuits, the plaintiff presents evidence to support his or her claims, and the defendant presents evidence that casts doubt on the plaintiff’s claims. The court decides which party is more believable. In criminal cases, the defendant wins unless the evidence against him or her is convincing “beyond a reasonable doubt,” but that is an impossible standard for civil cases. How can the judge or jury be 100% sure that the plaintiff’s back pain is from the car accident and not from an old injury, poor posture, or giving too many piggyback rides to a grandchild who is arguably too big for piggyback rides but too cute to say no to?  Therefore, the plaintiff wins in a personal injury lawsuit if he or she can show by “a preponderance of the evidence” that his or her claims are true. This standard of evidence means that it is more than 50% likely that the plaintiff’s interpretation of events is correct.

Daubert Standard

The Daubert standard applies to evidence presented by expert witnesses. The Daubert standard requires judges to review the expert’s statements before the expert presents them to the jury. It includes determining whether the published research the expert plans to cite is relevant and reliable.

Michael Foster
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Kansas City Personal Injury Attorney