Your Kansas City Personal Injury Case: The Basics
It was a stressful week and you decided to stop at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art on the way home from work. As you walked up to your favorite Georgia O'Keeffe painting, you suddenly slipped on a floor mat that wasn't fastened down. You fell to the floor, injuring your wrist and back in the process. You've racked up a lot of medical bills and you had to miss some work too. Some friends have asked whether you are going to pursue a personal injury case, but you are not quite sure. Here is some basic information to help you with your personal injury case in KC.
Are Personal Injury Cases Limited to Slip and Fall Accidents?
No. Personal injuries can happen in all sorts of ways, including car accidents, medical malpractice, defective products, dog bites, and more. If your body, mind, or emotional state was injured by someone's irresponsibility or carelessness, you may have a personal injury claim against them.
How Long Do I Have to File A Lawsuit?
If you think you are going to take legal action, keep in mind that there are deadlines within which you must file your lawsuit. These are called statutes of limitations and vary from state to state and by type of claim. In Kansas City, and the rest of Missouri, for a personal injury claim, you generally have 5 years. However, there are exceptions. For a medical malpractice claim, for example, you generally have 2 years. For a wrongful death claim, you generally have 3 years. Make sure to pay close attention to the deadline associated with your claim, or you could lose the right to bring your case to court.
Where and How Do I File My Lawsuit?
Personal injury cases are civil (as opposed to criminal) matters. If you pursue legal action, you will likely file in the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County Missouri. If you chose to represent yourself (called "pro se"), the Court's website has a section with forms and instructions as to how to proceed. Generally, the first legal document you will file is a "Petition" -- a legal "pleading" that basically sets forth a short statement of the facts, the basis for your claim, and includes your request to the court as to what you want done.
For uncomplicated claims involving $5000 or less, the Small Claims Court is a good option. You can represent yourself in Small Claims Court, or you can choose to retain an attorney. The Court has a booklet (PDF) you should refer to when pursuing a small claims action. In addition, the courthouse clerks can provide and help explain the required forms and pleadings. You may contact them at 816-881-3983.
What Compensation Can I Ask For?
In most personal injury suits, you will be requesting "damages" or money that is meant to compensate you for an injury. Generally, damages are divided into "economic" and "noneconomic" categories. Economic damages include specific costs like loss of wages and medical expenses, whereas non-economic damages include more intangible things like "pain and suffering."
Many states have imposed limits on the amount of non-economic damages that can be recovered in medical malpractice cases. Missouri had such a cap ($350,000) beginning in 2005. In 2012, however, this cap was declared unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court. Be sure to check on any damages limitations if and when you file your suit.
What If I Am Partially At Fault?
In many circumstances, both sides are partially at fault for an accident. What happens then?
States handle this differently. In a few places, including Missouri until 1983, if you were even 1% responsible for the accident, you were prohibited from recovering any damages. Missouri is now what is considered a pure comparative fault state. So, even if you were partially at fault you can still pursue a claim for your damages, although they will be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if you have damages of $10,000 and you are determined to have been 60% responsible, you can still recover $4,000.
Should I Get An Attorney?
Depending on your injuries and the number of parties involved, personal injury cases can become complicated. You may wish to retain a lawyer to help you. If you decide to speak with a lawyer, here is a helpful checklist of information and documents you should collect before your first meeting.