How Long Do You Have to Sue After an Accident?

How Long Do You Have to Sue After an Accident?

Thousands of people are involved in vehicle accidents every year in Missouri, and a crash can result in major property damage, devastating injuries, and even death. Survivors of serious accidents may be left dealing with long-term pain and suffering and mounting medical and household bills at a time they may be unable to work. 

Financial losses can easily exceed the limits of a car insurance policy, but an experienced car accident lawyer may be able to get you full compensation through a personal injury lawsuit. While no amount of money can make up for the trauma, pain, and suffering you are going through, a monetary award can relieve your financial burdens and enable you to focus on recovery and your family.

If you or a loved one has been injured or someone has died in a car accident, you must file a lawsuit in a timely manner, or you will be unable to receive anything. While Missouri law generally allows five years to sue after an accident, this can vary depending on what kind of accident it was and the factors involved.  This can be confusing, so it’s important to understand the law and the statutes of limitation.

Because the laws are complicated, it can help to hire a personal injury lawyer who can assess your situation and file the proper kind of lawsuit as soon as possible.  The attorneys at Birk Law Firm have years of successful experience in handling all kinds of car accident and other personal injury lawsuits, and are fully prepared to help you.

Suing After a Car Accident

Missouri follows a traditional “fault” system when it comes to car insurance and who is on the financial hook for injuries and other losses after a crash. That means a driver who causes an accident, and their insurance company, must compensate those who were harmed as a result. Practically speaking, that compensation will come from the at-fault driver’s insurance company.

However, in a serious accident with major injuries and property damage, costs may be more than the at-fault driver’s insurance policy limits. Additionally, insurance companies are out for profit and will attempt to deny claims or get you to settle for less than your case is worth. This is why it is often necessary to file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, and to do so in a timely manner.

According to Missouri Revised Statutes section 516.120, persons injured in a vehicle accident – including drivers, passengers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, bicyclists and bystanders – have five years from the date of the accident to file a personal injury lawsuit.  The same is true for property damage resulting from the crash.  After the five-year window has closed, your opportunity has passed and you may no longer file a claim.  If a crash results in someone’s death, Missouri Revised Statutes section 537.080 states that surviving family members or a representative must file a wrongful death claim within three years.  In wrongful death cases, the clock starts ticking on the date of the person’s death, which could be days or weeks after the car accident.

As for car insurance claims to cover vehicle property damage, those claims should be filed right away and no longer than a few days after the crash.  Also, it’s always important to call police immediately after a vehicle crash so they can respond to the scene and fill out a police report, which you will use as evidence in your injury or wrongful death lawsuit.

How Long After a Car Accident Can I Claim Injury?

The reasons for allowing five years to sue from date of the accident, is that it may take time for some injuries to manifest and show up, and for victims to receive medical treatment and determine the extent of injuries and how much recovery is possible. Some injuries may be so severe that it could take years of treatment before being able to conclude that pain and problems are going to be permanent and require continuing care. The allowed period also gives your attorney sufficient time to perform legal research and decide whether a lawsuit is feasible and how much it should be worth. 

Although injuries from car accidents can sometimes take days, weeks or months to show up, it’s always prudent to get checked out after a vehicle crash, whether that means promptly driving yourself to an urgent care center or making an appointment with your family doctor.  Obviously, if you are severely injured in a car crash, you should follow instructions of EMTs and allow yourself to be transported by ambulance to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Seeking medical attention right away after a car accident is important for two reasons:

  1. You want to make sure you are treated by a doctor to prevent further bleeding, get stitches, have broken bones set, and be checked out for internal organ damage. Your health is your first concern.
  2. Getting prompt medical attention is also important because these medical records documenting your injuries will be used later to build your legal claim. Even if you feel like you’re okay after a car crash, it’s best to be seen by a doctor for a check-up.

You can claim injury and file a lawsuit up to five years after a vehicle crash, but you should never wait that long to see a doctor.  Seek medical attention as soon as you experience pain or symptoms.  

What is Fair Compensation in a Missouri Lawsuit?

If your lawsuit is successful, your attorney may win a settlement award from the at-fault driver. The term “damages” refers to the amount of compensation you are entitled to receive from the negligent parties, the defendants in the case. In Missouri, you may receive both compensatory and exemplary damages.

Compensatory damages are awarded to compensate you for economic and non-economic losses from the accident.

ECONOMIC DAMAGES – are for calculable monetary costs resulting from the accident, including:

  • Medical, hospital, and rehabilitation costs
  • Lost wages and future earning potential 
  • Property damage
  • Funeral expenses, in case of a death.

NON-ECONOMIC DAMAGES – are compensation for losses that do not have a specific monetary value, but negatively impact your life, including:

  • Physical and emotional pain and suffering
  • Disability or disfigurement
  • Loss of consortium and quality of life.

Exemplary damages — Also called “punitive damages,” these are awarded in rare cases to punish the defendant for actions that show conscious disregard or complete indifference for the well-being and safety of others. A judge must decide whether punitive damages may be awarded, and 50% of the award will go to the State of Missouri. 

What are Damage Award Amounts?

There are a wide range of damage awards possible in a car accident case, from the thousands to millions of dollars. The amount you may receive depends on the individual factors and circumstances of the case, such as the extent and permanence of your injuries, the actual costs involved, and the degree of fault.  Missouri is a pure comparative fault state, which means that the amount of damages you can receive is reduced by the same percentage as your level of fault in causing the crash.

Of course, if you do not file a claim within the required parameters, the courts may refuse to hear your case, and you will not receive anything.

What Happens if You Miss the Deadline for Suing

If you try to file a lawsuit after the statute of limitations has expired, the opposition attorney will ask that your case be dismissed, and, most of the time, the court will grant the request.

However, there are exceptions to the statute of limitations’ five-year timeline, as follows:

  • If you were under the age of 21 at the time of an accident, you have an additional five years to file a lawsuit after turning 21.
  • If you became mentally incapacitated after the injury, you have five years past the date when you were declared mentally competent to file.
  • If the at-fault motorist leaves Missouri, the time spent outside the state may be exempted from the five-year deadline.

How Long to Sue After a Car Accident

An Experienced Car Accident Lawyer Can Determine When to Sue

If you or a family member has been injured in a car crash or other accident, the sooner you contact a lawyer to see if you can file a lawsuit, the better, while evidence and witnesses can be found. 

Birk Law Firm understands how much an automobile accident can affect your life, from your ability to work, to paying medical bills and getting your car back on the road. We will make every effort to settle the case out of court but are fully prepared to take your case to trial if necessary. When you have us on your side, we will investigate thoroughly to gather critical evidence to establish liability and put together a strong case for you, and we will do so within the statute of limitations. 

Do not delay. Call our Cape Girardeau car accident lawyer at 573-332-8585 today. The initial consultation is free and there are no fees to you unless we win your case.

Attorney Kelvin Birk

Attorney Kelvin Birk

Kelvin Birk is a lawyer as well as a certified public accountant, with more than 30 years of experience in accounting and tax and business consulting, and more than 20 years of experience in numerous legal matters. This combined expertise allows our law firm to provide a level of service above that of other firms. Whatever your legal situation, your attorney at Birk Law Firm can counsel you as to the tax implications. We have experience in providing myriad legal representation services to residents of southeast Missouri and other areas.. [ Attorney Bio ]