Car Accident Liability and Damages Explained
What is liability?
After a car wreck, the first issue in every person’s mind is: who was at fault? Under Missouri law, this is called “liability.” So, after a car crash, if you speak with an insurance adjuster (which we do not recommend) or a lawyer, often they will discuss “who was liable.”
Liability is based upon a duty owed to others on the roadway. Under Missouri law, operators of motor vehicles owe each other, their passengers and those on or near the road, a legal duty to utilize the highest degree of care. Missouri is unique in this respect. Under British common law, and in most other states, drivers only owe a duty to exercise the same or similar care a reasonable person would have used under the same or similar circumstances, often called the “reasonable person standard.”
So, the question becomes, after every car crash, “who failed to use the highest degree of care?” Just because a car crash happens does not mean someone is automatically at fault. The trier of fact can determine neither party is at fault, one party is at fault, or can find both drivers at fault. In the last scenario, Missouri law allows for fault to be apportioned between the drivers by assessing percentages of fault.
Sometimes, liability can be premised upon violation of a Missouri traffic law. Attorneys will often research Missouri statutes and local municipal ordinances to determine if a driver violated one of those laws. If the driver violated one of these laws, the lawyer can bring a cause of action under the theory of negligence per se.
What happens before liability is determined?
Being involved in a car accident is never pleasant. Even a minor fender-bender can create a significant disruption in your life, including delays from the car accident itself, filling out reports, dealing with insurance claims, finding auto repair shops, taking time away from work or family to handle all these matters, and having to get rides or rent a car while your own car is repaired. On top of this, if you are seriously injured, the obligations and responsibilities you face will overwhelm you and your family.
During this time, the insurance company will be investigating the cause of the crash, in an effort to determine liability. This can take hours, days, weeks or years to determine, if the cause of the crash is in dispute. This can leave you and your family in a very bad financial situation.
When you are involved in a serious car accident involving personal injury or perhaps the death of a family member, the disruption to your life can be devastating. Car accidents can have a tremendous financial impact to you and can seriously affect you ability to properly care for your family. On top of lost wages, you may have future medical bills, rehabilitation and medication expenses. In times like, this many people are extremely vulnerable, making you an easy mark for an insurance company.
Often times, we see people settling their case for pennies on the dollar, just so they can get their pain medication filled at the local pharmacy. Insurance companies know they can take advantage of you and your family during this time of need. It is times like this when the attorneys at E. Ryan Bradley will step in and help you.
If you were the victim of a car accident due to another person’s negligence or reckless conduct, we can help you assess liability. Once you prove the other person was liability, under Missouri law, you are entitled to money damages from anyone who bears liability in a car accident, whether that is a negligent driver, their employer, a defective automobile or parts manufacturer, or another party who created an unsafe condition.
After liability is established, what damages can I obtain?
After liability is established, damages generally fall into two general categories: compensatory damages and punitive damages. As implied by these terms, compensatory damages are intended to compensate the victim for the losses they sustained. Punitive damages are intended to punish a wrongdoer, and only apply in cases where the party knowingly or willingly disregarded someone’s safety or well being.
What are compensatory damages?
Compensatory damages are can be either economic or non-economic. Initially, most people thing of the immediate medical care costs such as the emergency room or ambulance bills. This can include medical bills incurred from treatment for the injuries sustained in the car accident, including all tests necessary for diagnosis. It may include medical equipment, such as crutches or wheelchairs, and also encompasses the costs of potential long-term care needs, in the event of a permanent or long-term disability that requires ongoing medical assistance. Many times, the medical costs are unknown because they will happen in the future. In cases like this, our car accident lawyers will hire experts to determine what these future costs will be.
In addition to the costs of medical care, economic losses usually include some property loss. This would consist of the cost of repairing or replacing the damaged vehicle, but can also include other personal property that was damaged or destroyed in a car accident.
Other economic damages include lost wages–essentially, the wages that would have been earned during the time taken off while you were in the hospital or recuperating. While most employers provide sick leave and disability coverage, under Missouri law, the at-fault party is not entitled to a “credit” for the sick time or disability coverage you have earned throughout your employment. This is commonly referred to as the “collateral source doctrine.” In addition, if an injury prevents you from being able to perform your job, or otherwise creates a disability that would disqualify you from future earnings, you will be entitled to additional damages.
Non-economic damages include items like pain and suffering. Often, recovery from an accident not only involves great physical pain and suffering, but emotional trauma as well, including shock, stress, and anxiety. Compensatory damages not only include these damages, but can also include damages relating to the trauma of losing a loved one, either by death or by loss of affection, such as when a spouse suffers a permanent physical disability that impairs his or her ability to provide care, companionship, or to engage in marital relations. In Missouri, this is called a “loss of consortium claim.” Loss of consortium claims are considered derivative claims and most often insurance policies will limit the available coverage for such losses. It is important to have a personal injury lawyer review the applicable insurance contract to see if there are separate limits of insurance for this claim.
What are punitive, or exemplary damages?
Although rare, punitive damages may be available as well. Generally, punitive damages involve cases of gross negligence or recklessness, such as if an automobile manufacturer was aware of a danger, but failed to recall a vehicle with a perceived defect or otherwise failed to protect a vehicle driver or passenger from a known risk of injury or death. In addition, our law firm regularly seeks punitive damages from intoxicated drivers and drivers under the influence of drugs.
Obviously, these forms of damages are not always easy to measure, and many people are unaware these damages may be available to them in the event of a car accident. When you or a loved one suffers a serious personal injury in a Missouri car accident, you need an attorney who understands what your needs are now and in the future. Only with a full recovery, may you finally begin the process of putting your life back together.
The attorneys at The Bradley Law Firm have decades of experience in assessing liability and damages issues. We consult with top-notch experts in the medical and automotive fields to relieve you of your worries about your bills and your future. This way, you can concentrate on recovering and taking care of loved ones.
If you have been involved in a car accident your consultation is free and there is no obligation to hire us. If we agree to proceed, you will never see a bill from our law firm, and you will never pay a fee unless and until you obtain money damages in a settlement or lawsuit. Call us at 314-400-0000 for a free, no obligation consultation.