10 Critical Steps After a Missouri Car Accident

Protect your rights and maximize your payout after a Missouri car accident. We answer key questions and show you how to build a strong insurance claim.

Missouri car accidentModern technology provides us with the safest cars ever built. Features like blind-spot warning, dual-stage airbags, and rear-view video cameras have significantly reduced the number of injuries in car accidents. But even with modern technology, last year there were still more than 6 million car accidents resulting in over 2 million injuries.¹

It’s easy to think accidents only happen to the other guy. But the truth is, if you’re an average driver you will be involved in 3-4 car accidents during your lifetime.²

The State of Missouri has its fair share of injury accidents as well. Last year over 50,000 people were injured in car accidents on Missouri roadways.³

What to do if you’ve been in a Missouri car accident…

Car accidents happen when you least expect it. In the blink of an eye, everything changes. After an accident, you may want to pursue a property damage or personal injury claim against the at-fault driver. To be successful with your car accident claim, you’ll need to know the right things to say and do.

Below are ten steps every driver should follow after a Missouri car accident. These steps will show you how to effectively deal with applicable laws, insurance companies, the police, how to gather evidence, and more. We’ve also provided answers to many frequently asked questions that come up at the scene of a car accident.

Step 1 – Stop, Call 911, Help the Injured

Missouri stop call helpCar accidents occur in the blink of an eye, giving you little time to react. The immediate aftermath can be chaotic and overwhelming. While it may be difficult, keep your wits about you and have a specific plan to move forward. This can be crucial in your pursuit of a successful claim down the line.

What’s the first thing I should do after an accident?
Pull over to a safe place and call 911. Then get out of your car and check to see if anyone is injured. It’s important to stay calm and be prepared for the 911 operator’s questions.

What information will the 911 operator need?
The 911 operator needs specific information to quickly dispatch police and paramedics. This is not the time to give your opinion of fault. The operator doesn’t want to hear who you think was at fault and why. Leave that to the police.

Give the 911 operator the following information:

Accident location: Be specific when giving your location. If you can’t provide an exact address, use mile markers, intersections, and even landmarks to describe where the accident occurred. The more specific you are, the quicker help will arrive.

Describe the scene: Most car accidents occur on streets and highways. After an accident, cars may be stopped dangerously close to traffic. Tell the operator what the scene looks like. Explain how many cars are involved, if the disabled vehicles are blocking traffic, and if there are any other obvious dangers.

Injuries: Some injuries are obvious, such as abrasions, contusions, fractures, head trauma, bleeding, and acute pain. Other injuries like muscle strains or whiplash may not show symptoms immediately, but may take hours or even days to appear. Tell the 911 dispatcher if there are any obvious injuries, or if anyone is complaining of pain, dizziness, or nausea.

What are my legal duties after a car accident?
Once you’ve stopped in a safe place and checked for injuries, look for damage to the vehicles involved. If there are any injuries or damage to the cars, Missouri law requires you to share the following information:

  • Names and addresses
  • Registration or license number for the cars involved
  • Drivers license information

Will police be dispatched to the accident scene?
Missouri State and local law enforcement officers have their own agency policies dictating when police and paramedics will be dispatched to an accident scene. Most do not dispatch emergency personnel unless there are injuries or the accident scene presents a danger to others.

Do I have to report the accident?
If you’ve been in a car accident on any Missouri roadway and there are injuries or property damage worth $500 or more, you are required to report the accident to the local police or sheriff’s department. You must report the accident as soon as reasonably possible.

You can also download Form 1140-Missouri Motor Vehicle Accident Report

Do I have to file an accident report if the police come to the accident scene?
No. If a police officer responds to the scene of the accident, then it’s the investigating officer’s job to create and file a crash report.

What if I’m injured in the accident?
If you’ve been injured in the accident, and are incapable of reporting the crash, your passenger must report the accident. If you had no passengers, you must report the accident as soon as you are able to within 5 days. If you were not the owner of the car involved in the accident, the owner must report the crash within 5 days.

What if the other driver was uninsured?
You must report the accident to the local police if the other driver was uninsured. This is the case regardless of any injuries or property damage.

Can I obtain a copy of the other driver’s driving record?
No. However, you may obtain a copy of your own driving record by visiting the Missouri Department of Revenue website.

How can I obtain a copy of an accident report?
If the accident occurred on a State Highway or if a State Trooper investigated the crash, go to the Missouri State Highway Patrol website. To obtain a copy of the report, including certified copies, wait 10 days from the date of the crash then complete and submit the Request for Traffic Crash Report form.

Forward the completed form to:

Missouri State Highway Patrol
Patrol Records Division
P.O. Box 568
Jefferson City, MO 65102
Attention: Traffic Crash Reports

Each copy of the report is $3.75. Make your check or money order payable to DPS – Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Step 2 – Start Gathering Evidence

Missouri photo evidenceEvidence you gather right after a crash occurs is often the best evidence you’ll find. Before long cars will be driven or towed away, drivers and witnesses will continue with their day, and the police will return to the station to file their report.

The evidence you gather at the accident scene is crucial. It’s the foundation upon which you’ll build your claim for damages.

What are “Damages”?
After a Missouri car accident, you may need to file a property damage or personal injury claim to recover your losses. These losses are known as “damages,” and can include:

What information should I collect from the accident scene?
In addition to the information required by law, try to obtain as much of the following as possible:

About the vehicles involved:

  • The make, model and year
  • License plate number
  • Registration expiration date
  • Vehicle identification number (VIN)

Note: The VIN number can normally be found on the car’s dashboard in the left corner where it meets the windshield. It can also be found on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the driver’s door jam.

About the drivers, passengers and witnesses:

  • Full name
  • Date of birth
  • Home and business address
  • Telephone numbers
  • E-mail address

Diagram of the accident scene:

  • Location of the cars immediately before and after the accident
  • Direction each car was traveling
  • Approximate speed each car was going
  • Exact date and time of accident
  • Current weather conditions
  • Location and type of any road obstructions

Will photographs and video help?
Yes. Photographs and video capture the accident scene immediately after it occurred. Use a digital camera or your cell phone to take photos and videos of the scene. Be sure to include the position of the cars, property damage, skid marks, weather, and even the demeanor of the driver, passengers and witnesses. When shooting video, be sure to include sound.

Should I take witness statements?
While witnesses are not legally required to remain at the accident scene, it may help your claim if they did. Ask witnesses if they will stay and give their statements to police. This will be especially helpful if there’s a question of fault.

If you can find a witness who’s willing to provide a written statement, get some paper and a pen. Ask them to write down what they saw and heard. There are no special legal requirements for a witness statement. Just be sure they write legibly and sign and date each page.

If you don’t have paper or a pen, record their statement on your cell phone’s video app. Be sure to also get their contact information in case you need to speak with them later.

Step 3 – Report the Crash to Your Insurance Company

Missouri call insuranceYour car insurance policy is a binding contract between you (the insured) and your insurance company (the insurer). As part of the contract, your insurance company is contractually obliged to provide coverage for you up to the limits of your policy, and defend you if a claim or lawsuit is filed against you.

In return, you are legally obligated to cooperate with your insurance company in their investigation of the accident. Your cooperation includes promptly reporting the crash to them, even if you believe you weren’t at fault, and appearing for depositions and court hearings if necessary.

These contractual obligations can be found in the “Notice of Occurrence” and “Cooperation Clause” of your policy. While each insurance company’s policies are different in form and substance, they all basically contain the same information.

If you choose not to cooperate with your insurance company, they may decide not to renew your policy, to raise your premiums, or even cancel your policy.

Example of Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation Clause:

“The insured agrees to notify the insurer of any accidents and thereafter provide all information, assistance and cooperation the insurer reasonably requests, including testifying at trials. In the event of a claim the insurer and the insured will do nothing that shall prejudice the insurer’s position….”

Why must I notify my insurance company if the other driver crashed into me?
While you may think the other driver caused the crash, s/he may not agree. By promptly contacting your insurance company, you give them enough time and opportunity to prepare for any contingencies, especially if the other driver decides to file a lawsuit against you.

Here are some other reasons to report a crash to your insurance company right away:

Delayed Symptoms: The other driver and their passengers may believe they weren’t injured at the scene, but some symptoms of injuries take hours or even days to appear. Injured parties may not begin to experience pain until sometime after the accident.

No Insurance: The other driver may not want you to know they don’t have insurance. They may be afraid if the police are dispatched to the scene, they’ll receive a citation for no insurance, or possibly be arrested.

Fraud: The other driver or passenger may decide sometime after the accident to “cash-in” by filing a false personal injury claim.

Are there mobile apps to report accidents?
Yes. There are a growing number of mobile apps offered by insurance companies and third parties. They can help you promptly notify your insurer after an accident and assist with other important tasks. Some features include:

  • Draw 3D sketches of the accident scene
  • Take photos and videos of the scene
  • Identify the accident location using GPS
  • Collect contact information, driver’s license information, insurance details, and more

Below are just a few of the companies currently offering car accident reporting apps:

Step 4 – Missouri’s 3rd Party Liability Law

Missouri 3rd party liabilityFollowing an accident, there are often injuries or property damage that need to be compensated. Some states require victims first turn to their own insurance companies for compensation, while other states allow victims to purse the at-fault party.

The State of Missouri follows the 3rd party liability doctrine. This allows injured drivers to pursue the negligent driver for compensation for their injuries and resulting damages.

What’s the benefit of 3rd Party liability?
In 3rd party liability states like Missouri, victims of car accidents may pursue the at-fault driver for their damages, including compensation for property damage, and for their pain and suffering.

What are my rights under Missouri’s 3rd party liability doctrine?
When you sustain property damage or personal injuries in a car accident, you have three legal options. They are:

  1. File an accident claim with your own insurance company
  2. File an accident claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
  3. File a lawsuit against the at-fault driver

Should I contact the other driver’s insurance company and file a claim?
Yes. Call the driver’s insurance company immediately after the accident to report it. You will be assigned a claim number. Within a week or so you should hear from a claims adjuster. In most cases, one adjuster will handle the property damage side of the claim, and another will handle the injury aspect of the claim.

Step 5 – Missouri’s Car Insurance Law

Missouri auto insuranceThe State of Missouri Revised Statutes (laws) require drivers to carry certain amounts of coverage on their auto insurance policy. These legal requirements ensure everyone on the state’s roadways will be fairly compensated for any property damage or personal injuries caused by another driver.

What are Missouri’s statutory auto insurance liability limits?
Missouri drivers are required to carry the following minimal amount of insurance:

  • $25,000 for injuries to one person in one accident
  • $50,000 for injuries to two or more people in one accident
  • $10,000 per accident in property damage

The law also requires drivers to carry uninsured motorist coverage in the amounts of:

  • $25,000 for injuries to one person in one accident
  • $50,000 for injuries to two or more people arising out of one accident

Step 6 – Missouri’s Pure Comparative Fault Rule

Missouri pure comparative faultThirteen states recognize the Pure Comparative Fault Rule. In Missouri car accident claims, this rule allows a victim to recover compensation even if the victim is 99% at fault for the accident. However, the amount of compensation is reduced by the victim’s percentage of fault.

Example of Pure Comparative Fault:

Genelle was on her way to work. She approached an intersection coming from the west and her light was green, so she proceeded through.

Doug was late for work and in a hurry. He was headed south towards the same intersection as Genelle. As she entered the intersection, Doug failed to stop at his red light and crashed into the driver’s side of Genelle’s car, causing her serious injuries.

Genelle’s medical bills and related damages were $100,000, so she filed an injury claim with Doug’s insurance company. The company refused to settle and the case when to trial. At trial, the jury determined Doug was at fault, having violated Missouri Revised Statute § 304.351. 1. which reads:

“The driver of a vehicle approaching an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to a vehicle which has entered the intersection from a different highway…”

However, the jury heard from a witness who said they saw Genelle texting on her phone as she entered the intersection. Genelle was only 20 years old. This made her in violation of Missouri Revised Statute 304.820.1 which reads in part:

“…no person twenty-one years of age or younger operating a moving motor vehicle upon the highways of this state shall, by means of a hand-held electronic wireless communications device, send, read, or write a text message or electronic message.”

The jury took Genelle’s texting into consideration. After some deliberation, they determined Doug’s percentage of fault was 80% and Genelle’s fault was 20%. As a result, the jury awarded Genelle only $80,000 instead of the $100,000 she sued for, representing her 20% of fault in the accident.

Should I admit the accident was my fault if I think I caused it?
Car accidents can occur for a number of reasons. Contributing factors can include poor weather, dangerous road conditions, road obstructions, driver distraction, and driver negligence. When driver negligence is the cause, there may be a debate over which driver was at fault.

Because you may not be aware of the contributing factors at the time of the accident, don’t make any admissions of fault after an accident. Admissions of fault can be used by insurance companies against you during settlement negotiations, and by attorneys at trial.

Step 7 – The Role of Law Enforcement

Missouri police at accidentPolice officers are trained in car accident investigation. When law enforcement arrives at an accident scene they have a job to do. Your job is to listen to their direction and follow their lawful orders.

What are the functions of police officers when they respond to a crash?
When the police arrive at an accident scene, their primary duty is to secure the scene, locate the injured and make arrangements to transport them for medical treatment. They will also try to prevent additional accidents caused by “rubbernecking” motorists, road obstructions, or other dangers.

In securing the scene, police may place flares, detour traffic, set out pylons, and may call for tow trucks.

Another important function of law enforcement is creating an accident or “crash” report. The report will list everyone involved in the accident, including witnesses, along with their addresses. The investigating officer will also make an initial determination of driver fault. Finally, they may issue traffic citations where applicable.

Does the investigating officer have to listen to my side of the story?
No. While you can try to speak with the investigating officer, Missouri law requires you to follow their direction at all times.

“It is the duty of the (driver) to stop and obey the signal or direction of a police officer and to obey any other reasonable signal or direction of a police officer…”

Refusing to obey the command of a police officer is a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine and incarceration in local jail.

Do I have to answer questions from law enforcement?
There are some questions you must answer. For example, if the investigating officer asks your name and address, or for your driver’s license and proof of insurance, you must comply.

However, if you’re asked questions about potentially incriminating matters, such as driving under the influence, possession of drugs, or for anything else which might result in criminal charges against you, you have the right to remain silent and not answer.

What if the police give me a ticket?
If the investigating officer decides you were in violation of one or more traffic laws, you may be issued a traffic citation. You can try to dissuade the officer from issuing the citation. However, once issued you must accept and sign it (if asked by the officer).

It’s important to know that traffic citations are not admissions of guilt. By signing the citation you’re only agreeing to appear in court at a specific date and time to answer for the charges.

When you appear in court, you may enter a plea of not guilty and ask for a trial. Depending on your driving record you may also ask the prosecutor to give you a “suspended” sentence. If the prosecutor agrees, you may have to attend a defensive driving course or pay a fine. However, once completed the citation may be dismissed.

Step 8 – When You Need an Attorney

Missouri hire attorney represent yourselfSome personal injury claims can be negotiated by a victim without an attorney. However, there are also situations when retaining a skilled attorney is the only option.

When do I need a personal injury attorney?
For purposes of car accidents there are two categories of injuries; “soft tissue” injuries and the more serious “hard injuries.”

Soft tissue injuries include sprains and strains to muscles, ligaments, tendons, minor bruising, whiplash and similarly mild injuries. Soft tissue injury negotiations are normally straightforward, don’t involve large amounts of money, and rarely result in lawsuits.

What if my injuries are serious?
More serious “hard injuries” include permanent disfigurement, loss of body parts, compound fractures, deep gashes requiring stitches, 3rd degree burns, head trauma, disk herniations, and other similar injuries. Unlike soft tissue injury claims, hard injury claims always require expert legal representation.

There’s too much to lose in a serious injury claim. You can only negotiate so far with an insurance company. While you may think you’re in control of the negotiations, the claims adjuster is ultimately in charge. Once they reach their maximum amount, there’s very little you can do. At that point, it’s either take it or leave it.

Filing a civil lawsuit by yourself is a practical impossibility. You would immediately be faced with a seasoned insurance company attorney who will want to take your deposition, subpoena witnesses, conduct court hearings and more. Faced with these challenges, it won’t be long before the judge dismisses your lawsuit.

Experienced personal injury attorneys are usually able to settle their clients’ injury claims for much higher amounts. Insurance companies know that injury attorneys have much greater recourse, i.e. the ability to file a lawsuit.

Lawsuits can be long and costly for insurance companies. They have to pay substantial legal fees to defend a lawsuit, and as a result, once a lawsuit is filed the company is much more likely to agree to a higher settlement.

How much do attorneys charge?
It’s a good idea after an accident to visit with several personal injury attorneys to review your case. Most won’t charge any fees for an initial office consultation.

During the initial consultation, the attorney will review the facts of the case and your evidence, and ask relevant question.  By the end, s/he should be able to estimate the strength of your claim, the approximate time it may take to resolve the claim, if a lawsuit may have to be filed, and the approximate amount you might receive.

If an attorney accepts your case, you likely won’t have to pay any legal fees until they settle your case or win it at trial. At that point you’ll have to pay the attorney anywhere from 25% to 40% of the gross settlement amount. If your attorney fails to get you compensation, you’ll owe them nothing.

Step 9 – Filing a Small Claims Lawsuit

Missouri small claim court

Small claims courts were created in Missouri to provide citizens with a low-cost, simple process for resolving civil disputes involving relatively small amounts of money.

When should I file a small claims court lawsuit?
There are three reasons to consider filing a lawsuit in Small Claims Court:

  1. The at-fault driver’s insurance company refuses to offer a fair settlement or wholly denies your claim
  2. The at-fault driver was uninsured
  3. An attorney will not agree to accept your case

How much can I sue for in a Missouri Small Claims Court?
Missouri Small Claims Courts have jurisdiction to hear cases in amounts up to $5,000. If the amount you’re suing for is higher than $5,000, you must file your lawsuit in a higher court.

Where can I find the forms I need to file my small claims lawsuit?
Small claims lawsuit petitions are straightforward and easy to fill out. The filing fee (to file your lawsuit and have it served on the at-fault driver) is $20 and can be paid by cash or money order.

You can download a Missouri Small Claims Court Petition here.

Do I need an attorney to represent me in small claims court?
No. While attorneys are permitted to appear in Missouri small claim courts, most cases are handled by the parties without legal representation. Small claims judges don’t require parties to comply with the complex Code of Evidence Rules which attorneys must follow in higher courts.

In small claims court, the judge wants to hear both sides, and will encourage both parties to state their cases without fear of being constrained by legal objections or other formal procedures.

Step 10 –  Missouri’s Statute of Limitations

Missouri statute limitationsThe statute of limitations is the time period in which you must either settle your claim, or if you are unable to do so, file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

Once the statute of limitations period expires, if you haven’t settled your claim or filed a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, you’ll lose all your legal rights to further pursue the driver for compensation.

What is the Missouri Statute of Limitations for my property damage and personal injury claim?
The State of Missouri has one of the longest statutes of limitations of any US state. As the victim of another driver’s negligence, you have five (5) years from the date of the car accident to either settle the claim or file a lawsuit.

Visitor Questions on Missouri Car Accidents

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>