If you live in St. Louis and someone else’s careless or wrongful actions injured you, you may obtain compensation from those liable for your injuries. In most cases, such as car accidents, you will file a claim with the other party’s insurance company. If insurance does not cover your injury, you may file a lawsuit directly with the civil court.
If you hire a personal injury lawyer who understands the laws and requirements for seeking damages, you will know whether you qualify for compensation and where and when to file your claim. They will know how to deal with insurance companies and have a good knowledge of civil courts and procedures.
Although each case is unique and based on the injury-causing event, all personal injury claims have common elements and follow a specific process.
The steps include:
- Getting medical treatment for your injury
- Gathering information to support your claim
- Filing your claim with the other party’s insurance company
- Negotiating a settlement
- Taking the case to court, if necessary
Before you begin, you should consult an experienced Missouri personal injury attorney for a comprehensive review of your case and a full explanation of your rights and options.
Get an Attorney
Title 36, Chapter 537 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri defines the laws governing statutory actions and torts. An attorney who knows the laws and requirements for pursuing compensation, can review your claim and determine if you qualify for compensation. They should also offer an objective and realistic opinion about the amount of compensation you should seek and your chances of getting it.
If your attorney feels your claim has merit and accepts your case, they can help you gather the evidence you will need and file all necessary forms and documents under mandatory deadlines. They should also have experience dealing with insurance companies and taking jury trials to verdict.
Furthermore, the attorney should provide documented results they have obtained for other clients who had similar cases, and you will want to research the attorney’s client and peer-review ratings to evaluate their level of professionalism and ethics.
A lawyer can also advocate for you throughout the process by asserting your rights, and they can increase your chances of getting favorable results.
Determine Your Compensation
To pursue compensation for your injuries, you will need to determine how much money you will need to cover your losses. You may also include figures for probable adverse effects the injury will have on your life going forward. For most personal injury claims, plaintiffs may receive economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages refer to tangible losses that are easy to calculate or determine, such as:
- Medical evaluations and treatment
- Physical therapy
- Lost wages
- Property damage
They can also include out-of-pocket expenses you incurred as you sought treatment for your injury, including transportation and daycare costs.
Non-economic damages refer to those that do not have an easily quantifiable amount or are intangible, such as:
- Mental or emotional distress
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
In some cases, such as those involving egregious misconduct, unlawfulness, or willful intent, the court may award punitive damages on top of any economic and non-economic damages. Punitive damages punish the wrongdoer and send a message to others to prevent similar incidences.
The Demand Letter
When they file your personal injury claim, your attorney will send a letter to the insurance company that states the reason for your claim and the parties responsible for your injury. The letter will outline the specific damages you seek and their dollar figures.
A demand letter can include facts about the accident and how the injury has affected your life. It should also provide an acceptable amount the insurance company can pay to settle the matter out of court. A demand letter normally serves as the launching point for settlement negotiations with the insurance company.
Once the insurance company receives your claim, they can accept it without dispute and agree to pay you. In that case, you could receive a settlement check within a few weeks.
The insurance company may respond with lower a settlement offer than what you demanded or one that will not cover your losses. If this happens, you have no obligation to accept it, and your attorney will likely negotiate to get a higher amount. Settlement negotiations can take time, several months, in many cases. However, once you agree on a settlement amount, you should receive a check within four to six weeks.
The insurance company may reject your claim outright or not even respond to your claim. They may also refuse to settle, or settlement negotiations may prove futile. In these cases, your next course of action is to file a lawsuit in court. You may also file suit against the insurance company if they act in bad faith regarding your claim or do not honor the settlement agreement.
Personal Injury Lawsuits
Although typically more time-consuming and expensive than settlement negotiations, a you may need to file a personal injury lawsuit to get the compensation you need and the justice you deserve.
Statute of Limitations
Like other states, Missouri places time limits for filing personal injury lawsuits with the court. For most personal injury suits, the state allows you five years from your accident to file. Otherwise, you may forfeit your right to pursue compensation.
However, the statute of limitations is different for other scenarios, such as wrongful death and deliberate misconduct, so you should consult an attorney about your matter as soon as possible.
Just because an accident hurt you doesn’t mean you automatically will recover compensation. For your injury lawsuit to have merit, you must show the court how the other party caused your injuries.
To establish liability, you must demonstrate:
- The other party owed you a duty of care. Duty of care means they had a legal responsibility to behave a certain way or take actions to prevent harm to others. For example, all drivers have a duty of care to others on the road.
- The other party breached that duty through their actions or inaction.
- The breach caused your injuries.
- You suffered damages as a result.
To provide proof, you will need to collect as much evidence and information as you can to support your claim, which can include:
- Police and accident reports
- Witness statements
- Medical reports and treatment records
- Imaging and diagnostic test results, such as X-rays and MRIs
- Health care bills and receipts
- Vehicle or property damage estimates
- Proof of lost wages, such as pay stubs and bank deposit information
- Receipts for other related out-of-pocket costs
- Photos and videos of your injuries and the accident scene
You should also make copies of any information or evidence you obtain and keep them in a safe location.
The Discovery Process
At trial, you will want to present a case that will sway a jury’s decision in your favor. Conversely, the defendant will try to refute your claims and sway the jury to their side.
To prepare for trial, all parties will first go through a discovery process. During discovery, you can request information from the other party and the defendant can request information from you. Each party must provide any information requested from the other party within the timeframe the court established, so long as the court has not deemed the information privileged.
Either side can request depositions or any physical or electronic documents about the case. They may also obtain information using interrogatories, which are lists of detailed questions involving the accident and the injury, as well as other methods, such as admissions of fact.
Before hearing a personal injury case, Missouri courts will typically require both parties to engage in pre-trial mediation. Either party may voluntarily request mediation before trial, but both parties must agree to it and agree on who will serve as mediator. Furthermore, all parties will have to sign confidentiality agreements and promise not to disclose details about the proceedings.
An alternative to litigation for dispute resolution, mediation has several advantages to going to court, such as:
- It takes place outside of court, usually in a lawyer’s office.
- It can be less expensive and quicker than a trial.
- The details of the negotiations will remain private.
During mediation, an impartial third party, the mediator (a licensed attorney trained in alternative dispute resolution), will hear opening statements from both sides about their cases. The mediator will then separate the parties into different rooms, and the mediator will move between each room, sharing information with each party about the other party’s stance and demands.
The mediator helps the parties settle the dispute, and they may also identify potential weaknesses in a party’s case and convince the party to compromise on terms. However, they are not there to provide legal advice.
If parties settle the dispute, they will sign a written agreement that details the terms. Each party’s attorney will then file the agreement with the court, and if necessary, the defendant’s attorney will initiate the appropriate actions to pay the settlement. The plaintiff will have to sign a release that prohibits them from taking further legal action involving the claim, and the case will close. The settlement agreement will legally bind the party to its terms.
If you and the other party cannot settle the dispute in mediation, you will proceed to trial.
All jury trials have six stages:
- Choosing a jury: The judge and both parties’ attorneys will select a jury by questioning potential jurors and evaluating whether they can serve impartially and objectively. A judge can excuse a juror who cannot.
- Opening statements: At trial, both sides will present their opening statements. The plaintiff will present facts showing how the defendant caused their injuries, and the defendant will present their interpretation of the facts to refute the claim.
- Witness testimony and cross-examination: Each side may question any witnesses called to testify, and witnesses must swear, under oath, to tell the truth. The party who called the witness to testify will question them through direct examination to verify their testimony, and the other side will cross-examine the witness to discredit them or expose discrepancies in their statements.
- Closing arguments: Both sides will then summarize their case and recap pertinent evidence supporting their position.
- Jury instructions: Following closing arguments, the judge will provide the jury with the legal principles they must consider and follow during deliberation.
- Jury deliberation and verdict: Jurors will then go to a separate room to analyze the evidence and deliberate to reach a verdict. For civil trials in Missouri, the jury can reach a verdict if only three-fourths of the jurors agree.
Following the verdict, either side may file a request for appeals. An appeal is not a new trial, and you cannot introduce new evidence. An appeals court must approve an appeals request, and they will typically only hear cases where you can show that judicial or factual errors or procedural mistakes affected the verdict.
Missouri’s Pure Comparative Fault Law
Missouri has laws that govern how much compensation a plaintiff can receive if they were partially responsible for causing the accident. The state follows a pure comparative fault rule, and a plaintiff can recover damages no matter how much they were at fault (unless they were fully responsible).
Contact a Missouri Personal Injury Lawyer for Help
If someone injured you, look for an award-winning personal injury attorney near you, preferably one with extensive experience with settlement negotiations and jury trials, and a track record of getting the best results possible. They should offer a free consultation that will allow you to evaluate the lawyer as they evaluate your claim.