The statute of limitations for filing a car accident case in Missouri depends on whether your accident resulted in injuries or wrongful death. Per Missouri Code § 516.120, a lawyer generally has five years to file a personal injury lawsuit after a non-fatal car accident. Mo. Ann. Stat. § 537.100 generally allows three years for a lawyer to file a wrongful death lawsuit after a fatal car accident.
These statutes of limitations are critical to every car accident victim. If you or your car accident lawyer fails to file the case on time, you jeopardize your rights to compensation altogether.
Reasons Why a Car Accident Victim Could Miss the Filing Deadline in Missouri
An accident victim might fail to file their case on time and may suffer this fate because:
- They do not hire a lawyer soon enough: Hiring a lawyer is one of the ways to ensure you file your case on time. However, if you wait to hire a lawyer until the dawn of the filing deadline, even a lawyer may not have options to help. That said, a lawyer can quickly draft and file your case, so do not wait to contact a lawyer about your car accident.
- They focus on physical recovery: Car accident victims often focus first on their health, and rightfully so. However, the demands of the recovery process can distract the victim from their legal case, including the filing deadline.
- They have serious physical or psychological health problems: If someone suffers a paralyzing injury, coma, or other serious health problem because of their car accident, the filing deadline may pass without the victim realizing it. If family members are not aware that there is a filing deadline, this can allow the deadline to slip by. A lawyer can try to secure an extension in such cases, as the court may understand the circumstances.
- They do not realize the full cost of their accident: In some cases, an accident victim may assume that their accident and damages are relatively minor. They may not consider filing a lawsuit because they assume they won’t need to. However, the victim may eventually realize their damages are more serious than first thought.
- They assume that the insurance company will provide fair compensation: Many insurance companies do not pay car accident victims fairly. An insurance company may place its financial interests above yours. If you allow the insurance company to take control of the post-accident process, they may drag it out beyond the filing deadline for a lawsuit.
While your case’s filing deadline can expire for many reasons, hire a lawyer so you do not fall victim to an expired deadline.
How to Ensure That You File Your Case on Time (Hire a Lawyer)
A few steps may minimize the risk of missing a filing deadline, which include:
Never Assume That a Car Accident Is Minor
There are several reasons why someone might assume their car accident is not serious.
This may happen because:
- The accident victim has no visible injuries
- There was no significant vehicle damage from the collision
- The accident victim is not in significant pain immediately following the accident
- The accident victim does not receive a comprehensive medical evaluation that reveals all accident-related injuries
- The victim is tough by nature and may be inclined to ignore or “tough out” their accident-related injuries
Some injuries, like whiplash, can take a long time to manifest symptoms. You need to seek immediate medical treatment after your collision to get accurate diagnoses of all injuries.
If you downplay the severity of an accident, you risk not taking action that can lead to a financial recovery. If you treat your collision as a major event, you will likely keep all your options open (including filing a lawsuit).
Never Assume Insurance Companies Will Pay You Fairly
Some car accident victims assume that if they leave the post-accident process to the insurance company, the result will be positive. This is not always the case, and you should never simply sit back as the insurance company leads the process.
Insurance companies have their own financial motives to prioritize.
If you do not advocate for yourself (with a lawyer’s help), the insurance company may:
- Offer a lowball settlement that does not adequately cover your damages (and try to convince you that the offer is fair)
- Delay the claims process (which may lead to the filing deadline expiring and you losing leverage with the insurance company)
- Accuse you of causing the car accident (which may reduce or eliminate the insurer’s financial liability)
- Deny your claim outright
- Refuse to cover certain accident-related losses
- Take your words or actions out of context (and use them against you)
- Try to intentionally confuse you about the details of applicable insurance policies
Whatever you do, do not assume that an insurance company will act in good faith. Instead, hire your own lawyer to ensure that an insurance company honors their contracts and pays what you deserve.
Hire a Car Accident Attorney as Soon as Possible
Hiring a lawyer may be a surefire way to ensure the prompt filing of your case. This is especially true if you hire a lawyer as soon as possible after your car accident.
Immediately after you hire your car accident lawyer, they will:
- Gather the facts about your accident, as well as applicable insurance policies
- Draft and file your claim or lawsuit
- Contact insurance representatives to ensure receipt of your claim (and get documentation of receipt)
- Work to secure the compensation you deserve
Car accident lawyers often have significant financial resources and paralegals on their side. These benefits allow the firm to move quickly, drafting and filing your case before the statute of limitations expires.
Who Should Consider Hiring a Car Accident Lawyer?
Because hiring a lawyer can benefit you so immensely, virtually every injured victim should hire an attorney.
Always hire a car accident lawyer if:
- You suffer injuries during the accident: Injuries generally increase the cost of a car accident, sometimes considerably so. If you suffered an injury during your accident, there may be a higher likelihood that you are entitled to significant compensation.
- You lose a loved one to injuries suffered during a car accident: Losing a loved one is a tragic outcome of car accidents and one that may require hiring a lawyer. There is a possibility you can pursue a wrongful death lawsuit, which is a significant undertaking requiring long hours and substantial energy. You always want a car accident lawyer to lead this process for you.
If you have any questions about whether to hire a car accident lawyer, call firms in your area.
Car accident lawyers (and their firms) typically offer free consultations, which are a no-obligation opportunity to learn about the firm and discuss your case. You can use consultations to decide whether to hire a lawyer, as well as which firm is right for you.
What Does It Cost to Hire a Car Accident Lawyer?
Car accident lawyers generally use contingency fees.
These fees allow a lawyer to represent any client because:
- The client does not pay any upfront compensation to the firm (meaning the firm covers the entire cost of completing the case)
- The law firm claims its fee from any settlement or verdict the client receives (rather than receiving compensation directly from the car accident victim’s pocket)
Car accidents often impose financial stress on the victim. However, your financial circumstances will not stop you from hiring a car accident lawyer, thanks to the contingency fee structure.
What a Car Accident Lawyer Does for Their Client, the Car Accident Victim
Before you hire a lawyer, you deserve to know what the attorney will do for you.
Though a lawyer’s obligations can vary based on the client and case, your attorney will likely:
- Gather evidence from your car accident (without delay): The evidence your lawyer gathers can affect the outcome of your case. Therefore, your lawyer will work quickly to get witness accounts, video footage, and any other evidence documenting your Missouri car accident.
- Detail your damages: Your lawyer will document your damages in as much detail as possible. Useful forms of documentation may include all accident-related medical bills, X-rays and other images of your injuries, doctors’ diagnoses of your injuries (and their treatment plans), and mental health experts’ diagnoses of your pain and suffering.
- Calculate the value of a fair settlement: No lawyer can negotiate a settlement without a precise financial target. Before your lawyer engages in settlement talks, they will know the exact value of your economic and non-economic damages.
- Negotiate a settlement: It is likely your lawyer will negotiate a settlement on your behalf. Most car accident cases (including in Missouri) end with a settlement, as this is the quickest way to secure payment for an accident victim. However, your lawyer will not advise you to accept a settlement offer unless the compensation is fair.
- Handle every other aspect of your claim or lawsuit: From drafting paperwork to placing and fielding phone calls, your lawyer will oversee the small and large details of your case. In fact, every detail is important after a car accident, which is why so many victims choose to hire a lawyer.
If liable parties never offer a fair settlement, your attorney should take your case to court. While a trial can take months (or longer) to complete, the potential reward can be immense. A jury may award you substantial compensation for your accident-related damages.
A Lawyer Will Seek Compensation for All of Your Accident-Related Damages (Including These)
Your lawyer’s will evaluate your damages.
These damages will form the centerpiece of your entire case, and may include:
- Medical bills: Medical bills may account for a significant portion of your accident-related expenses. The more serious your injuries are, the more costly your care may be (though any injury can be expensive).
- Pain and suffering: You can seek compensation for physical pain, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), lost quality of life, and other non-financial harm from your car accident. Your lawyer may work with a mental health expert to calculate the cost of such damages.
- Mental healthcare: If you receive any form of treatment for pain and suffering (like medication or counseling), your lawyer will include the cost of your care in your case.
- Professional damages: Car accident victims can lose income, earning power, and other professional benefits because of car accidents. You may recover these professional damages.
- Property costs: Vehicle repairs, temporary transportation, and replacing personal property (like a phone) are among the property expenses that can result from a car accident.
Some car accident victims need occupational retraining, medical equipment, and other items and services. An attorney will account for all of your damages as they work to recover compensation for you.
Hire a Car Accident Lawyer Before the Statute of Limitations Expires
Remember the statute of limitations for filing a car accident case in Missouri. These deadlines are typically non-negotiable, so do not wait any longer to hire a personal injury lawyer. Your attorney will draft and file your case as soon as possible.