Navigating Your Legal Options After a Missouri Auto Accident
Three tips for taking legal action for car accident injuriesBy Lisa Stickler | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on November 9, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorneys Mark A. Cantor and William K. Holland
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- 1. Collect Evidence of the Car Crash
- 2. Get Legal Representation from an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer
- 3. Bring Your Missouri Car Accident Claim Within the Statute of Limitations
- Find an Experienced Car Accident Attorney for Legal Counsel
Your number one priority after a car accident, according to Mark Cantor, a personal injury attorney at Cantor Injury Law in St. Louis, is ensuring the safety of everyone in your vehicle. “Protect your occupants from further harm by pulling over and calling 911,” he says.
“Oftentimes, at the accident scene, adrenaline kicks in, and you may not necessarily understand your injuries,” adds Bill Holland, a personal injury attorney at Holland Injury Law in St. Louis. “Once the adrenaline wears off, the pain can set in. It is important to speak to a medical provider right away to document your injuries.”
1. Collect Evidence of the Car Crash
Once each passenger’s safety has been ensured, collecting evidence is key. “Get the [other] driver’s pedigree—including name, address, phone number, and insurance information. In Missouri, the driver has an obligation to provide that information,” says Cantor. “Also, get the name and contact information of any witnesses.”
Holland says to reach for your phone: “Most folks have a movie studio in their pockets—take it out and film. If you think the other driver is impaired by drugs or alcohol, pull out your movie studio. A lot of impaired drivers are not arrested at the scene and later deny they were under the influence of any alcohol or drugs.”
While Cantor notes that any evidence you collect can be used as evidence at trial, both he and Holland advise against discussing fault at the accident site. Missouri is an at-fault state, meaning the at-fault driver who caused the accident is responsible for paying for the other party’s injuries and losses.
“Just tell the police officer what happened. Fault can be determined later on,” Holland says, emphasizing the importance of making sure the police interview all involved parties. “You’d be surprised by how memories and recollections change once drivers leave the scene of the accident. That can delay the resolution of your property damage claim, and possible bodily injury claim.”
2. Get Legal Representation from an Experienced Car Accident Lawyer
After the police interview, Holland says, attorneys can assist in many ways, including:
- Helping the injured party select or omit medical providers;
- Making sure bills are paid;
- Ensuring liens are paid out of the settlement; and
- Tracking down surveillance footage and cellphone records.
Your insurance company must also be notified. “You have an affirmative obligation to cooperate with your own insurance company as part of your insurance agreement. Normally, the law firm you hire will contact the other driver’s insurance company,” says Cantor. “Your lawyer can make a statement to the insurance company that is not introduced into court. For example, settlement discussions are not admissible into evidence in Missouri.”
3. Bring Your Missouri Car Accident Claim Within the Statute of Limitations
A personal injury claim in Missouri must be brought within five years of an auto accident, and personal injury attorneys operate on a contingency fee basis—meaning they only get paid if the injured party collects a settlement or verdict. “The contingent-fee system makes hiring an attorney a very low-risk proposition,” says Holland.
“People have a tendency to undervalue their claim,” adds Cantor. “Lawyers understand the value of your case better than most individuals.”
Find an Experienced Car Accident Attorney for Legal Counsel
It’s easy to encounter pitfalls at the scene of a crash when emotions are running high. “Not documenting the facts of the accident, and the injuries you suffered, will lead to a poor result—no matter how good your lawyer is,” says Holland.
Regardless, it’s important to find a lawyer who will not “under-settle your case,” says Cantor.
Adds Holland: “A good personal injury lawyer will begin a lawsuit on your behalf if the insurance company does not fairly evaluate your damages. Picking the wrong lawyer can and will affect your outcome.”
To learn more about the legal process involved in car accident cases and what has to be proven in car accident claims, see our overview of motor vehicle accident law. Visit the Super Lawyers directory to find an experienced attorney in your area for legal advice. Many personal injury lawyers provide free case reviews to learn about your situation and discuss the attorney-client relationship.
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