Your St. Louis Personal Injury Case: The Basics
Let's face it. Life can be dangerous. At any moment you could be involved in a serious accident. Next thing you know, you end up at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital emergency department. Whether you are injured at someone else's home, at work, as the result of a defective product, by a dangerous dog, or the even at the hands of a negligent doctor, knowing your rights is paramount.
What should you do? What should you expect? Here's some information to help guide you through the process of a personal injury case in St. Louis.
What to do first?
Seek medical attention if you are injured. Your health should always come first and foremost. Try not to minimize any pain or suffering you're feeling. Be completely honest with your doctor and explain how the injury happened. Begin to collect evidence to help your case. Speak to witnesses, keep a journal, and take photos. If you are injured on the job, contact the Missouri Department of Labor.
You may wonder if you even have a personal injury case. How do you know for sure? There are a number of things to think about to in order to preserve your rights.
The Course of a St. Louis Personal Injury Case
- A person is injured as a result of another's negligence;
- A complaint is filed and served by the plaintiff;
- The defendant may be required to file an answer;
- Both sides gather evidence;
- A pre-trial conference takes place between judge and the attorneys to discuss possible settlement. A mediator may also be hired to try and settle out of court;
- If there isn't a settlement, trial takes place and a verdict is rendered;
- Either party can appeal the decision to appellate courts.
Missouri's Negligence Laws: How much does "fault" matter?
In order to win your case, you must prove the defendant was negligent or "at fault" for your injuries. There are a number of different ways to prove fault. It really depends on the particular circumstances of each case.
Missouri uses a pure comparative negligence rule. Don't let the name intimidate you. This means that the injured party may recover damages even if he was partially at fault, but those damages will be reduced by a percentage in proportion to his fault in the accident.
For example, the plaintiff may have been injured in an accident, but he is also 50% at fault. If the damage award is $50,000, he will only receive $25,000. The same process would follow were he to have been 75%, 20%, or even 99% at fault for an accident.
What kind of damages can I collect?
There are several types of injuries for which a person can collect damages. The most common type are physical injuries, which include direct trauma to the body. A victim may be able to recover compensation for medical bills, lost wages (past, present and future), pain and suffering, loss of life's pleasures, scarring and disfigurement, and loss of consortium. Mental and emotional injuries can also be compensable. A victim may also collect money for property damages including damages to cars, houses or other personal property.
Punitive damages usually are awarded only if the defendant was grossly reckless or intended to injure the plaintiff. These damages are awarded as punishment to make sure the defendant won't commit the act again.
How long do I have to file a complaint?
The standard statute of limitations, or put simply, time limit, for a personal injury claim in Missouri is five years from the date of the incident causing the harm. For medical malpractice, it's two years. There are some exceptions for minors and mentally impaired individuals. Remember, even if you have a legitimate claim, you may be unable to ever receive compensation for an accident if you file too late.
How can I protect my rights?
- Keep a journal and calendar: As soon as possible after the accident write down every important detail you can, including the harm that resulted and its effect on your daily life. Continue to keep notes as your claim progresses and keep track of dates, including medical appointments.
- Report the accident: Report the accident to the police, your insurance company or, in some circumstances, the person/entity you believe is responsible. Obtain their name and address. If you are contacted by the insurance company which represents the responsible party, remember that it is best not to give the company a statement without first contacting a lawyer.
- Preserve the evidence: Evidence is the strongest link to winning personal injury cases. Take photos or videos from all angles at the accident scene and of the damages suffered. If injured, consider taking photographs periodically of the injuries.
- Obtain medical records: The federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gives you the right to obtain a copy of your medical records from any medical provider.
- Gather the necessary information. If available, obtain police reports and the identity of any witnesses (name, address, phone number).
If you aren't sure what to do, a trained legal professional may be able to help. Lawyers take personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you do not pay for the costs of a case or 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 of your case is considered a "win" and your attorney will most likely be entitled to collect their fees and costs.
If you do decide to sue, your lawyer will provide details about where and when to appear in court. Usually the case is filed in the county where the injury happened. Here's a list of courthouses in St. Louis County.