Your St. Louis Car Accident: The Basics
You're driving down Route 66 with the family. Your in-laws are in town and you're hoping to impress them with some local flavor. "Concrete shakes" from Ted Drewes Frozen Custards should do the trick. The traffic is pretty bad and you are stuck at a red light. The kids (and your mother-in-law) are getting restless asking over and over, "Are we there yet?" All you can think of is the thick, creamy Big Apple shake. Finally, the light turns green, but you aren't moving very far. As visions of apple custard dance in your head, you realize the guy behind you isn't stopping. Bam! You are read-ended. There goes your happy Sunday drive.
What's next? Here's some information to help guide you through the process should you be in a car accident in Mound City.
What to do at the scene
First, you must stop at the scene of the accident -- whether the accident involves a pedestrian, a moving car, a parked car or someone's property. Missouri state law requires drivers in a crash to stop and stay at the scene to exchange information or render reasonable assistance to the injured. If you leave, you could be charged with hit-and-run and face severe penalties.
Contacting the Police
Next, contact the police -- even if it's a minor accident. Call the Missouri State Highway Patrol or 911 as soon as possible. An officer will respond to your location and take a report. If you hit a parked car, or other object like a traffic device, you must inform the owner.
What information should I gather at the scene?
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 of your insurance company. You may wish to collect contact information for:
1. Other car's owner;
2. Any passengers in the other car; and
3. Any witnesses to the accident.
Consider making note of traffic and weather conditions. Draw a simple diagram of the collision scene and/or take photographs if you are able.
It's important not to volunteer any information about who was to blame for the accident. Generally you should not agree to pay for damages or sign any documents except a traffic ticket. Most important tip: always cooperate with the police officer investigating the case.
Reporting the Accident to the Driver's License Bureau
You'll only need to file an accident report in limited circumstances. Missouri law requires you to file if all three are true: The accident was within the last 12 months, someone was uninsured, and the accident caused property damage costing more than $500, or someone was injured or killed. If the accident didn't cause $500 in property damage or personal injury or death, you may still file an accident report if there was an uninsured motorist involved.
State Insurance Level Requirements
Missouri drivers, listen up. You are required to carry basic liability insurance. Here's the minimum:
- $25,000 per person for bodily injury;
- $50,000 per accident for bodily injury; and
- $10,000 per accident for property.
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.
If you don't maintain this coverage, you could lose your driving privileges. It only takes 8 points to have your license suspended.
After the Crash: Dealing with Insurance Companies
As soon as you can, report the crash to your insurance company. 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.
Liability: Who is really at fault?
Determining who is at fault can be complicated. Car accidents can be caused by a variety of factors, including driver negligence, defective vehicle components, poorly maintained roads, or badly installed parts.
Missouri uses a pure comparative negligence rule. That means the injured driver 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, a driver 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 a serious car accident.
What Damages Are Available
If you have suffered harm from the accident, you can seek monetary damages for your loss. These damages may include lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
If you aren't sure what to do, a trained legal professional may be able to help. Many lawyers take auto accident cases on a contingency fee basis. Basically, you do not pay the lawyer his or her attorney fees if you lose the case. If you win or settle, you pay the lawyer a percentage of the money you get.
If you do decide to sue, your attorney will provide details about where and when to appear in court. Here's a list of courthouses in St. Louis County.
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.