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Your Columbia Car Accident: The Basics

It's field trip day for you and your daughter. You've decided to take the day off and chaperone the youngsters on their trip to Museum of Anthropology at the University of Missouri. The kids get to be Margaret Mead for a day, basking in archeological curation, fossils from thousands of years ago, and even learn about ancient archery. What a day it will be!

You all pile into the big yellow school bus and hit the road. But, danger lurks ahead. You're not more than two miles from the school when the unthinkable happens. A guy going over 80 mph in a Ford Focus runs a red light and smashes into your bus. Kids are flying out of their seats as the bus absorbs the impact. Chaos has ensued. Five people, including the teacher, are rushed to the Boone Hospital Center emergency room.

Now what? Here's some information to help guide you through the process should you or someone you know be in a Columbia car accident.

Call the Police

As a responsible driver, you must never leave the scene of an accident. Stop where you are and call the Columbia Police Department or 911, especially if someone was injured or killed. A police officer will respond to your location and take a report. Not only is it essential that you provide any necessary help immediately following an accident, but leaving an accident scene can result in having your driving privileges revoked or your license suspended. Even worse, if you leave you could be charged with criminal hit-and-run.

What Else Should I Do At the Scene?

If the police haven't arrived, you'll need to warn oncoming traffic about the accident. Use flares, reflectors, or flashlights if the accident happened at night or in bad weather to warn other drivers. I know, how many people actually carry flares in their cars? Well, now's a good time to run and buy some. You may need them one day.

Next, be prepared to exchange information with the other driver -- your name, address and driver's license number; the registration number of the car you were driving; and the name your insurance company. If there are witnesses, be sure to get their names and addresses, too.

Likewise, fellow motorists, passengers or pedestrians involved in the accident must share similar information with you.

Consider making note of traffic and weather conditions. Draw a simple diagram of the collision scene and/or take photographs if you are able.

At this stage, don't volunteer who you think is to blame for the accident. Generally don't agree to pay for damages or sign any documents except a traffic ticket. Make sure you always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.

The Missouri Department of Revenue provides a complete list of what to do in case you are in an accident.

Do I Have to File An Accident Report?

You are required to file a report (PDF) to the Drivers' License Bureau if the accident:

  • Happened less than one year ago,
  • Involved an uninsured motorist, AND
  • Caused property damage costing more than $500, or someone was injured or killed.

What if there was less than $500 in Damage or No One Was Hurt or Killed?

If the accident did not cause $500 in property damage or personal injury or death, you can still file an accident report if there was an uninsured motorist involved.

Do Columbia Drivers Have to Carry Car Insurance?

If you plan to drive in Columbia, you must have liability car insurance. At a minimum you should have liability insurance. Liability insurance covers your legal liability when injuries or property damage happen as a result of your actions.

The minimum level of coverage required by state law is:

  • Bodily Injury: $25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident
  • Property Damage: $10,000 per accident

The law also requires you to have uninsured motorist coverage of $25,000 for bodily injury per person and $50,000 for bodily injury per accident.

What happens if you don't have insurance coverage?

Your privilege to drive will be suspended and you may have to pay fines.

Report the Accident to Your Insurance Companies

As soon as you can, report the crash to your insurance company. Failure to make a prompt and correct report may affect your rights. Your carrier will open an investigation. Be honest with the adjuster, but remember you don't have to automatically accept their estimate or appraisal. Here's a list of do's and don'ts when speaking with insurance adjusters.

Remember, any statement may be used as an admission of fault. Be cautious in dealing with persons offering to adjust your case or trying to hurry you into a settlement. Once a release is signed, it is very difficult to reopen a case.

How Do The Courts Determine Who is At Fault in An Accident?

Determining who is at fault can be complicated. Car accidents are caused by a variety of factors, including driver negligence, defective car parts, poorly maintained roads, or driver distraction.

In Missouri, in order to prove fault, you must prove negligence. The state follows a pure comparative negligence rule.

If you are also at fault in the car accident, the other driver is only liable for the percentage of damages he or she caused.

For example, if a person runs a red light while you were speeding, the jury can find that running the red light was 75 percent negligent while your speeding was 25 percent negligent. You will only be rewarded 75 percent of your total damages.

What are damages?

If you have suffered harm from the accident, you can seek money damages for your loss. These damages may include:

  • Reimbursement for medical treatment and lost wages
  • Reimbursement for damage to or loss of use of property that occurred as a result of the injury
  • Loss of consortium
  • Money for emotional distress and/or pain and suffering
  • Punitive damages (money given as punishment)

The Final Word

If you aren't sure what to do, a Columbia personal injury lawyer may be able to help. Many attorneys take auto accident cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you don't pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get. A settlement is considered a "win."

If you do decide to sue, your attorney will provide details about where and when to appear in court. Here's a list of Columbia courthouses.

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