Can You Sue for a Car Accident if You Are Not Hurt?

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, over 157,000 traffic crashes were reported statewide in 2019. Because of those crashes, 881 people lost their lives, and 55,112 people were injured. There were also 118,387 property damage-only crashes.

Some people involved in car accidents are fortunate to walk away from the accident with a few bumps and bruises. Other individuals may sustain minor injuries that require time and rest to recover. Unfortunately, thousands of people sustain severe car accident injuries that result in hospitalizations, physical therapy, and lengthy recovery periods. 

The damages caused by a car accident can be significant and may include: 

  • The cost of medical treatment
  • Loss of income and benefits
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Permanent impairments and disabilities
  • Decreased future earning potential
  • Emotional distress and mental anguish
  • Loss of enjoyment of life and decreased quality of life

An accident victim can sue the at-fault driver to recover their damages. However, you must prove that you sustained damages to recover money for a car accident. If you were not injured or harmed, you could not prove the required legal elements of a negligence claim.

Negligence and Car Accident Claims

Car accident claims are generally based on the legal theory of negligence. Negligence is the failure to act with the level of care that a reasonable person would use in a similar situation. The conduct usually involves an action, but it could also involve omissions when there is a duty to act involved. 

The “reasonable person” is a hypothetical person. A jury must decide what a reasonable person would or would not have done in a given situation to determine whether the defendant’s actions were negligent. If the defendant’s actions deviated from what a reasonable person would have done, the jury might find that the defendant’s negligent.

The Four Elements of Negligence for a Personal Injury Case

An accident victim must prove all four elements of negligence before they are eligible to receive compensation from the party who caused the accident or injury. 

The four legal elements of a negligence claim are:

Duty

The other party must owe you a duty of care. Duty means the other party has an obligation to act in a certain way (reasonable person standard). 

Regarding car accident claims, all motorists have a duty of care to follow traffic laws. They also have a duty of care to avoid actions that could endanger other people, including drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. 

Breach of Duty

You must prove that the other motorist breached the duty of care to win your lawsuit. A motorist breaches the duty of care when they disobey traffic laws, act recklessly, or engage in other wrongdoing. 

For example, a person driving a vehicle after consuming alcohol (drunk driving) or under the influence of prescription pain medication may have breached the duty of care. Drivers who exceed the speed limit, tailgate, and fail to yield the right of way may also have breached their duty of care to obey traffic laws. 

Causation 

Causation is a link between the breach of duty and the incident that caused your injury. For example, a driver making an unsafe lane change crashes into your vehicle. Say the collision results in a broken leg and a concussion.

The evidence must show that the unsafe lane change was the direct and proximate cause of the car accident. If you cannot prove that the defendant’s breach of duty was the direct cause of your injury, you cannot recover compensation for damages.

Damages

In addition to proving causation, you must prove damages. You must show the court that you sustained damages because of the defendant’s actions.

Damages would include:

  • Physical injuries
  • Medical bills and expenses
  • Lost income and benefits
  • Emotional anguish and distress
  • Permanent disabilities
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Decreases in quality of life
  • Long-term personal care
  • Decreases in earning potential

The value of the injury claim depends on the factors of the case. However, individuals who do not sustain damages because of a car accident cannot recover compensation from the at-fault driver. Without damages, there is nothing to compensate. You might be angry and frustrated, but the wreck did not cause a compensable loss.

How Can I Protect Myself After a Car Accident?

Five important things to remember to do after every car crash are:

1.  Report the crash to the police and request a written investigation report.

2.  See immediate medical treatment for your injuries. You must document your injuries through medical records to prove you sustained damages because of the accident. 

3.  Document the accident scene when it is safe to do so. Take photographs, make a video, and ask eyewitnesses for their names and contact information.

4.  Document all financial losses by keeping receipts, invoices, and detailed logs of expenses and payments. 

5.  Do not talk to an insurance adjuster about the car accident until you talk to a car accident lawyer. You do not want to say or do anything that could hurt your case.

A car accident lawyer reviews your case, explains your legal rights, and helps you build a case against the other driver to recover fair and just compensation for your injuries and damages.