Missouri Personal Injury Laws and Statutes of Limitations

The basics of Missouri personal injury law, including how long you have to file suit, where to file your case, what happens if you're partly to blame, and more.

By , J.D. University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Dan Ray, Attorney University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law
Updated 4/15/2024

Chances are you're here because you were injured in Missouri by someone else's wrongdoing. Maybe you were hit by a careless driver, or fell on a neighbor's icy walk, or were hurt by a negligent doctor. But like most Missourians, you don't know much about the laws and procedures that will apply to your personal injury (PI) claim.

We'll get you up to speed on the basics, starting with Missouri's deadlines for filing personal injury lawsuits in court. From there, we explain where your PI lawsuit will be filed, what happens if you share some of the blame for your injuries, Missouri's strict liability rule for dog bite cases, and more.

Missouri's Statutes of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits

A "statute of limitations" is a law that puts a deadline on your time to file a lawsuit in court. Missouri has several that control personal injury cases. We begin with Missouri's five-year general rule, then we'll explain some different deadlines for specific kinds of lawsuits.

Missouri's General Rule: Five Years From the Date of Your Injury

As a general rule, you have five years, usually starting on the date you were injured, to file a personal injury lawsuit in court. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.120(4) (2024).) Unless a more specific rule is a better fit, this is the statute of limitations for lawsuits involving:

Other Rules for Specific Personal Injury Cases

Missouri's five-year deadline isn't a "one-size-fits-all" rule. In some cases, there's a more specific statute of limitations. Here are a few common examples.

Medical malpractice. A number of special rules apply to medical malpractice lawsuits. Among them is the statute of limitations, Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.105.1 (2024). Most often, the filing deadline is two years from the date of the malpractice. The clock might start running later, meaning you've got more time to file, in cases involving:

  • a foreign object mistakenly left inside your body
  • unreported test results, or
  • malpractice injuries suffered by a child.

(Learn more about Missouri medical malpractice laws.)

Intentional injuries. By far, a majority of personal injury claims happen when a person is hurt because of another's negligence, or carelessness. But injuries also result from intentional wrongdoing. The law calls this an "intentional tort." Missouri law gives you two years to sue for these (and other) intentional torts:

(Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.140 (2024).)

Injuries resulting in death. When personal injuries cause death, the victim's surviving family members can file a Missouri wrongful death lawsuit. The filing deadline is three years, usually starting on the date of death. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.100.1 (2024).) You might have more time if the defendant (the party you're suing) flees Missouri in an attempt to avoid your lawsuit.

Can Missouri's Personal Injury Filing Deadline Be Extended?

In a few situations, yes. Missouri law sometimes extends the lawsuit filing deadline, giving you a bit more time to sue.

You don't know you've been hurt. It's possible that you might be injured and not even know it. Should that happen, your lawyer might argue that Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.100 (2024) allows you more time to file. Under this law, the filing clock doesn't start running until your injuries ("damages," in the language of the law) are "capable of ascertainment."

What does "capable of ascertainment" mean? Unfortunately, it's not clear. Missouri courts haven't provided much useful guidance regarding what this phrase means. You need not have actual, subjective knowledge that you've been injured. But there must be some available facts to put a reasonable person on notice that they might have an injury that could support a lawsuit.

Here's the bottom line. If you're hoping you might have more time to sue because your damages weren't "capable of ascertainment" right away, you'll need to get advice from a Missouri PI lawyer. Expect the defendant to put up a serious fight, and the court to be skeptical of your claim.

The injured person is legally disabled. A person who's younger than 21 years old or "mentally incapacitated" gets extra time to sue. Under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.170 (2024), the limitation period starts running when:

  • the person turns 21, or
  • the mental incapacity is "removed."

These exceptions don't apply in medical malpractice cases.

The defendant tries to prevent you from suing. When you're injured by a person who lives in Missouri, but who later flees the state in an effort to keep you from suing them, Missouri law provides a remedy. The statute of limitations clock doesn't run as to that defendant for the period they're outside the state. It starts (or resumes) when they return. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 516.200 (2024).)

What Happens If I Miss Missouri's Statute of Limitations Deadline?

If you've missed the filing deadline for your lawsuit, or if you think the limitation period is going to run out very soon, your first call should be to a Missouri personal injury lawyer. You want to know:

  • what the statute of limitations is for your case
  • whether the lawsuit filing deadline has passed or is about to pass, and
  • if the deadline has passed, whether there's an exception that might give you more time to sue.

When your filing time has run out and no exception applies, your claim is legally dead. Nothing you do will bring it back to life. Try to file a lawsuit and the court will dismiss it. The court might also sanction (penalize) you for filing a frivolous case.

You'll also be disappointed if you're trying to negotiate a settlement of your case. You won't have the threat of a lawsuit to back you up, so neither the defendant nor their insurance company will take you seriously. You can't force them to pay you, and they're not likely to voluntarily write you a check.

Where Will My Missouri Personal Injury Lawsuit Be Filed?

Unless you're planning to sue in Missouri's small claims court—where your damages can't exceed $5,000—you should have a personal injury lawyer prepare, file, and handle your lawsuit. Your case will be controlled by (among other things) the Missouri Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules can be complicated and difficult to understand. Odds are you don't know much about them, and the time to learn isn't while you're trying to handle your own personal injury suit.

Your case will start in a Missouri trial court. The court that's authorized to hear most kinds of personal injury cases is called the Missouri Circuit Court. When you're asking for damages of $25,000 or more, your case belongs in the Circuit Court. If your damages are less than $25,000, you can file in the Associate Circuit Court division of the Circuit Court.

Your lawyer must also file your case in the proper venue, or location. That usually means the place where the defendant lives (or, in the case of a company, has its place of business) or where you were injured. Different rules will apply in some cases.

(Learn more about how to file a personal injury lawsuit.)

What If I'm Partly to Blame for My Injury?

In the usual personal injury case, to collect damages you must prove that the defendant negligently caused your injuries. Quite often, the defendant will argue that you were negligent, too, hoping to reduce or eliminate the personal injury damages you're allowed to collect. This is a legal defense called "comparative negligence," and it's available in Missouri. Here's how it works.

Missouri's Pure Comparative Negligence Rule

Missouri has adopted a "pure comparative negligence" rule. Under this rule, your percentage share of the total negligence reduces the damages you get by that amount. As long as you're not 100% to blame for what happened, you can still collect at least some damages. (See Gustafson v. Benda, 661 S.W.2d 11, 15-16 (Mo. 1983) (personal injury cases generally); Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.765 (2024) (product liability suits).)

How Does Missouri's Pure Comparative Negligence Rule Work In Personal Injury Cases?

You were slowing your car as you approached a red light. Unbeknown to you, your brake lights didn't work because of a blown fuse. The driver right behind you didn't notice you slowing and rear-ended your vehicle. You sued the other driver for negligence, who answered that your comparative negligence should reduce or eliminate your damages.

After a jury trial, the jurors decided that the other driver was 85% negligent. But they agreed that the remaining 15% of the blame was on you. They assessed your total damages at $100,000. How much will you collect? Because you were 15% negligent, you're allowed to recover 85% of your damages: $100,000 x 85% = $85,000. The other driver's insurance company will write you a check for that amount.

What would be the result had the jury found you 99% negligent? You could still collect 1% of your damages, or $1,000. Under Missouri's pure comparative fault rule, you'd get nothing only if the jurors decided that the wreck was entirely your fault.

Does Missouri Limit Personal Injury Damages?

Many states have limits, also called "caps," on the damages a winning party can collect in a personal injury case. Typically, the cap applies to what the law calls "general" or "noneconomic" damages. These are amounts paid to an injured person for losses like pain and suffering, emotional distress, disability and disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life.

State Cap Laws Generally

A few states cap noneconomic damages in all personal injury cases. More commonly, though, they're capped only in certain kinds of PI lawsuits. Medical malpractice and product liability suits are favorite targets.

Punitive damages—meant not to compensate an injured victim but to punish a wrongdoer for extreme or outrageous misconduct—also are frequently capped. Finally, most states limit the damages an injured person can collect in a claim against the state or a local government.

Missouri Cap Laws

Missouri doesn't cap noneconomic damages across the board, in all cases. Instead, caps apply only in medical malpractice lawsuits. As a general rule, noneconomic damages can't exceed $400,000. In cases involving "catastrophic" injuries—like paraplegia, quadriplegia, loss of two or more limbs, or permanent cognitive impairment—this amount is increased to $700,000. These limits are adjusted upward for inflation by 1.7% each January 1. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 538.210 (2024).)

Missouri law limits punitive damages to the greater of $500,000 or five times the compensatory damages awarded to an injured person. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 510.265.1 (2024).) Because punitive damages are rare in PI lawsuits, this cap isn't likely to impact the value of your case.

Finally, as in most states, government damages liability is limited in Missouri. In a claim against the government, the most an injured person can recover—for all damages, not just noneconomic damages—is $300,000. The government's total liability for all claims arising out of the same occurrence is limited to $2,000,000. (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 537.610.2 (2024).)

Strict Liability for Dog Owners in Missouri

State dog bite liability laws vary. Some states only hold owners legally responsible for dog bites when:

  • the owner was negligent
  • the dog had a history of biting others, or
  • the dog had known dangerous or vicious characteristics.

Missouri takes a different approach. A negligent owner whose dog attacks a person can be held liable, as in all states. But Mo. Rev. Stat. § 273.036 (2024) makes an owner "strictly liable" for all injuries their dog causes, regardless of the animal's past history or dangerous tendencies. The owner is on the hook unless the injured person:

  • was trespassing at the time of the incident, or
  • provoked the animal in any way.

(Get the details on Missouri's dog bite laws.)

Get Help With Your Personal Injury Case

We've covered many of Missouri's basic personal injury statutes of limitations and other laws. If you're thinking about pursuing a claim or a lawsuit, there's much more you need to know. An experienced Missouri personal injury lawyer knows Missouri law, the filing deadline for your case, and the case valuation and settlement practices in your area. You can bet that the defendant will have legal counsel. To make it a fair fight, you should too.

When you're ready to move ahead, here's how you can find an attorney in your area.

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