Auto Accident/Personal Injury

Receiving compensation for bodily injury is a principle that is thousands of years old (see my article on this website entitled "Should a Christian Sue" by clicking the tab "Articles").

The general idea is that if someone is not being careful and causes you to be injured, that person may owe you compensation. Car accidents are the most common types of these injuries. However, you can also be injured by tripping over an item at a store, by a product that malfunctions or by the negligence of a health care provider.

Let's take the example of a car accident. After providing whatever immediate help you can for others and yourself, call for an ambulance if there are any injuries. Whether there are injuries or not, you also want to call the police. There is nothing quite like a police report to document who was at fault while the drivers and their cars are still at the accident scene. People tend to be more open and have a better memory of events shortly after an accident. If someone tells you they witnessed the accident, ask them to write down their name, address and phone numbers and give it to you. There have been times where the police officer on the scene told my client that he or she would get the witness' information and then forgot to do so.

Obtaining proper medical treatment for any injuries to you and your family must be the first priority. If you are hurting at the accident scene, you will probably be hurting worse later that evening or the next day. It is better to error on the safe side and ask for an ambulance or have a family member drive you to the emergency room. It is also important to get good follow up care after you leave the emergency room. There are two benefits to doing this. First of all, medical research suggest that prompt medical or chiropractic care lessens the long term effects of the injury. Also, when you obtain treatment, health care providers are writing down your physical complaints and what their physical exam reveals. Medical record evidence plays a critical part in proving any personal injury claim.

Another type of evidence which is important to preserve is photographs of the damage to your car and photographs of the bruising and cuts to your physical body. The old expression, "A picture is worth a thousand words" is never so true as in a personal injury claim. If you wait too long, your car may be repaired and the bruising may fade on your body. Ask a family member or friend to photograph you and the cars involved in the accident. It is also helpful to have someone photograph the scene of the accident to show the view of each driver just before the accident. This is particularly important if the scene of the accident is under construction, since the appearance of the roadway or intersection may change when the construction is over.

What if you are injured by a driver who does not have insurance? Your own car insurance policy provides uninsured motorist coverage (UM). This means that you can make a claim against your own insurance company if the other driver doesn't have insurance. This type of insurance is required under every insurance policy issued in Missouri. If you have several cars covered under the same policy, you may be able to stack your coverages. For instance, if you have uninsured motorist coverage of $50,000 and have three cars insured, your coverage for your injuries is actually $150,000. What if the other driver has only minimum coverage ($25,000). There is an optional coverage that you can ask your agent to add to your policy (it does not cost that much) called underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). The way this works is that the other driver's insurance coverage pays its limits and then your insurance company pays the remaining amount to cover your injuries up to the UIM limit. Most policies provide that your insurance company gets a credit for whatever the negligent driver's policy has paid. Therefore if the other driver's insurance company pays its $50,000 limits and you have UIM limits of $100,000, your company will pay you $50,000 if you can demonstrate that your injuries are worth at least $100,000.

Most people want to make sure that the other person will be taken care of in case you cause someone to be injured. My advice to clients is to make sure you have enough liability insurance in case you cause an accident. You also want to make certain you have enough uninsured and underinsured coverage in case you're injured by the other driver's negligence. Therefore, I suggest that you have personal injury limits on your policy of at least $100,000 and UM and UIM coverage in at least that same amount. It does not cost that much to bump up the limits on your policy and it can be so critical if you have an accident.

If you are not sure whether you need an attorney for an accident, then you owe it to yourself to call a personal injury attorney. Most attorneys will represent you on a 1/3 contingent basis. This means that an attorney retains 1/3 of any recovery that he obtains on your behalf as his or her attorney fee. If no recovery is obtained, you do not owe any attorney fees.

There are important time limits and other legal consequences in most personal injury claims that require legal advice. Therefore, in most cases, it is very important that you contact an attorney shortly after the accident.