After a Missouri traffic accident, if you've been injured or had your vehicle damaged, you may want to consider your options for getting compensation for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few Missouri laws that could have a big impact on any car accident claim you decide to make, and we'll look at the legal obligations of drivers when it comes to reporting an accident to law enforcement.
A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a strict time limit on your right to bring a lawsuit to court.
In Missouri, the statute of limitations that will apply to a lawsuit over a vehicle accident depends on whether that accident caused injury or death.
First, according to Missouri Revised Statutes section 516.120, anyone injured in the accident -- and that includes a driver, passenger, bicyclist, pedestrian, or motorcycle rider -- must get their civil lawsuit filed within five years of the date of the accident.
But, if the accident resulted in someone’s death, and a family member or other representative wants to bring a wrongful death claim against the at-fault driver, that case must be filed within three years, and the “clock” starts on the date of the person’s death (which can be different from the date of the accident). That deadline is set by Missouri’s rules for wrongful death cases, which you can find at Missouri Revised Statutes section 537.100.
(Note: The statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim -- or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim -- "promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)
If you try to file your lawsuit after the applicable time limit has passed, you can count on the defendant (the person you’re trying to sue) pointing out that discrepancy to the court as part of a motion to dismiss. The court will almost certainly grant the motion (unless some rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline), and that will be the end of your case. That's why it’s crucial to understand how the statute of applies to your situation.
Even if you’re confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to -- if for no other reason than that you’ll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the filing deadline, you may want to contact an experienced Missouri car accident attorney.
Suppose you're seriously injured in a Missouri car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident -- but that you too bear part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?
Missouri is a "pure comparative fault" state. This means that the amount of damages you can recover in a car-accident-related lawsuit is reduced by the same percentage as your level of fault in causing the crash.
For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $100,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, the total amount of your damages, $100,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $10,000, leaving you with a total award of $90,000.
The comparative fault rule applies in Missouri even if you are found to be more responsible for the accident than the other driver. For instance, if the jury decides you are 90 percent at fault, you are still technically entitled to 10 percent of your total damages, but of course the other side of the coin is that you'll be on the hook for 90 percent of the other driver's damages.
The comparative negligence rule binds Missouri judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), and it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is evaluating your case. Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.
Missouri Revised Statutes section 303.040 sets out the requirements for reporting an accident in the state. Under this law, there are three separate scenarios where an accident must be reported.
First, the operator or owner of a motor vehicle must report an accident:
Second, the owner or operator of a motor vehicle that is involved in an accident in which any person is killed or injured -- or in which damage to property of any one person in excess of $500 is sustained -- must report the accident if the owner or operator of the vehicle did not have automobile insurance.
Third, the owner of a parked car that is involved in an accident in which any person is killed or injured -- or in which damage to property of any one person in excess of $500 is sustained -- must report the accident.
The owner or operator must report the accident to the Missouri Department of Revenue on the official car accident report form for the state of Missouri.
In almost every Missouri car accident scenario, insurance coverage is sure to play a key role, so it's important to understand the state's liability auto insurance requirements and other coverage rules that could affect your car accident claim. Get the details on Missouri's car insurance rules.