Guide To Automobile Injury Compensation And Rights In Missouri
Your Guide to Automobile Injury Compensation and Rights is provided to clients of the Ankerholz and Smith law firm for informational purposes. The rules that govern injury claims due to automobile collisions are stated in the Missouri Statutes, in the state administrative regulations, and in the cases decided by the Appellate Courts of Missouri.
Although putting all of the pieces of these many laws and regulations together is a complex task, we want you to understand how they affect you and your case. Because each person is different, we handle each automobile injury case individually. Our goal in representing you in your injury claim is to help you obtain the best medical recovery possible, and then to maximize your financial recovery when concluding your claim by settlement or, if necessary, by lawsuit and trial.
The following are questions that our clients have commonly asked during our prosecution and handling of their automobile injury claims. The questions are not a complete statement of the law. Instead, we hope that these following questions and answers will help you understand what will be happening in general terms in your case.
We invite you to discuss with us your questions and concerns pertaining to your case. We honor and value the trust that you have placed in us by allowing us to represent you in your accident claim. We will strive at all times to merit your continued trust as your case progresses. We look forward to working with you at all stages of this procedure.
How will my case be handled?
We will obtain and collect the records and billings for the treatment of your injuries. We conduct the necessary investigation of the collision to establish who is responsible for your injuries. We will confer with you periodically to keep abreast of your recovery from your injuries and the course of your medical treatment. We will work with you to collect and present the necessary documentation to insurance carriers for the payment of any lost wages or other income loss.
After your medical recovery has been completed, we will obtain additional medical evidence in the form of narrative reports and medical opinions as to your condition. As required for the proper presentation and documentation of your case, we will also obtain expert opinions from such experts as accident reconstruction engineers, economists and vocational rehabilitation experts.
We will evaluate your case and present a settlement demand to the adverse insurance carrier based upon the particular facts of your case. We will confer with you during the course of the settlement negotiations and obtain your prior approval before accepting any settlement offer.
If necessary to maximize your recovery and after discussing it with you, we will file a lawsuit in your case and try it to a jury.
Can I use my health insurance instead of submitting my medical bills to my auto insurance company?
Generally, most health insurance policies require that you first submit your bills to your automobile insurance company if you have medical pay provisions in your policy. The auto insurance is considered the primary policy. Because of the variety of health policies that exist your policy may not require that you first submit to your carrier. In any event, you should have coverage under your health insurance if your auto insurance has paid the limits for medical expenses under your auto insurance policy.
Can I recover all of the wages I lose as a result of my inability to work after my auto accident?
Yes. Any loss of earnings can be recovered from the person who is found to be responsible or at fault for your injuries. Generally speaking, the insurance company for the other driver causing the accident will pay 100% of your documented wage and income losses as a part of the settlement of your claim.
Do I have to have a certain amount of medical expenses to make a claim for my injuries?
No, not in a Missouri case.
The person who caused my accident only has $10,000 in auto insurance coverage. Can I sue them and take their property to pay my losses?
Maybe. Instead of attempting to collect the damages from the person, you can recover all or at least part of your damages in excess of the $10,000 coverage from special insurance provided in your own auto insurance policy. If you have higher limits on your auto insurance, you may have larger coverage for these excess damages. It is not likely to be worthwhile to sue the person responsible for your injuries in order to recover your damages in excess of $10,000.
As a practical matter, if the person who caused your injuries has inadequate insurance coverage, you will be unable to collect those damages in excess of the insurance policy from that person. This is because such person’s home, automobile and certain other property cannot be taken to satisfy the debt to you. If faced with losing property to pay you, the other person will probably obtain a discharge of the debt in bankruptcy.
Finally, such a person who has low limits is unlikely to have any property from which to pay the debt. After your insurance company has paid you the additional amounts for your damages then it has the right to try to collect this money from the property of the other person. Because of the difficulty involved, insurance companies are not generally very active in pursuing recovery of the payments from the person’s property.
Making a claim for this special insurance coverage under your auto policy is not a permissible reason for your auto insurer to cancel your policy or to raise your rates. This special insurance coverage is separate from the liability portion of your auto insurance. You pay a separate premium for this special coverage. A claim for this special insurance is considered a non-chargeable loss.
I don’t know any doctors. How do I know who to see? Do I need to see a specialist?
Your attorney will discuss with you the options that you have for treatment. Under your auto insurance, you have the opportunity to select that physician and treatment which you believe will provide you with the best medical result and greatest improvement.
Your attorney will be able to supply you with the names of many doctors who you might choose to see. Your attorney’s experience in handling hundreds of these cases will permit you to discuss the appropriateness of a particular doctor to treat your injuries.
As your medical treatment progresses, your attorney will discuss with you any other medical treatment options which should be considered. Generally, it is not necessary to immediately be seen by specialist. If you fail to improve satisfactorily after a period of time, then your seeking a referral to a specialist should be strongly considered.
Can I get a rental car while my own vehicle is being repaired?
Your own policy may provide for a substitute vehicle while yours is being repaired. The insurer of the person causing the accident may offer to provide a rental car. We will review your auto policy and request your insurer or the other person’s insurer to provide a rental car for you. Please ask us to assist you in making these arrangements.
Who pays for the damages to my car?
Generally, we will be looking to the other person’s insurance to take care of the damages to your car or truck. The property damage claim is ordinarily settled early on, while your claim for bodily injuries remains open. A properly prepared release for the property damage claim will not release your claims for injuries which you have sustained. You should discuss such a release with your attorney.
If your auto insurance provides “collision coverage,” you will have an option as to how to immediately pay for the repairs to your car. You can submit the claim under your policy and pay the deductible. This approach is used if there is a question as to who is responsible for the collision.
Also, you would possibly choose to submit the repairs under your own policy if you are having difficulty with the other person’s insurance company and are unable to reach an appropriate determination of the damages to your car.
What should I do if an adjuster from an insurance company calls?
If an adjuster for the insurance company for the person who caused your injuries should telephone you or come to your home, please tell the adjuster to contact your attorney and give the adjuster our telephone number. We have found that even a casual conversation with an adjuster can have serious consequences to the success of your injury claim. In no event should you ever sign any paper or give a statement to the adjuster without first discussing this with your attorneys. The same warning applies to any contact with adjusters for your own auto insurance company.
Courteously tell the adjuster of your insurance company to contact your attorneys. You need not and should not say anything else. Because of the benefits to which you are entitled under your own auto insurance, the relationship between yourself and your company is adversary. Y
our company is entitled to proper loss information but your attorneys working with you will provide it to your company. We have experienced our client’s own insurance company requiring an examination by a strange doctor in an attempt to manufacture evidence that our client was not injured.
Will insurance companies hire people to follow and watch me?
Perhaps. We are aware of cases in which injury victims have been followed and videotaped with surveillance equipment. By heeding your doctor’s restrictions on your physical activities and conducting yourself accordingly, this should not be a problem.
How much is my claim worth?
The value of your claim is based on a complex mix of factors. No one particular factor is determinative of the value of your claim. All of these factors must be considered to accurately determine the value of your claim.
Your injury claim is comprised of three basic elements: 1) medical expenses, 2) loss of time and income and 3) pain, suffering and disability. The same injury to different persons will not result in the same value.
For example, the value of the loss of a foot will be much greater for a professional football place kicker than for an office worker. Generally speaking, the greater the amount of monetary damages for items such as loss of earnings and income, and medical expenses, the greater the value of the claim. These items are less subjective and can be more accurately demonstrated than the intangible losses of pain and suffering and disability.
Your attorneys will give you their best judgment as to the range of values for injuries similar to yours. This is merely a guesstimate at the outset of your claim. Until the medical treatment has been provided, and the long-term effects of your injuries can be more accurately assessed, we are unable to form an informed judgment as to the value of your particular claim.
Using their experience in successfully handling hundreds such cases in the past and having a sense of what a jury would think of your claim, your attorney can tell you the value of your claim once your medical condition has stabilized and the probable long term effects of your injury are known.
How long will it take to conclude my injury claim?
The time needed to process your claim depends primarily on the length of time required for your medical treatment. After you have reached a point of maximum medical improvement, we will evaluate your claim and attempt to conclude it by negotiation. We strive to complete cases within four months after our clients reach maximum medical improvement.
Do most cases settle out of court or do they go to trial?
The vast majority of all claims are settled out of court. Only a very small percentage of all claims actually result in a complete jury trial. The probability is very great that your claim can be successfully concluded without the necessity of even bringing a lawsuit against the persons who caused your injuries. Even after a lawsuit is filed for a claim, the probability is very great that the case will be settled and concluded successfully without going to trial.
How long does it take for a case to go to trial?
Depending upon the Court in which the case is filed, a case will generally be tried between six to twelve months after the lawsuit is filed.
What is the amount of my attorney fees?
The attorney’s fee for concluding your claim is a percentage of your total recovery after the expenses for preparing your claim have first been deducted. The percentage of the fee varies with the difficulty of proving a case. The percentage ranges from 50% to 33%. Our usual fee in an automobile collision injury claim is 40%. In cases in which the liability for a person’s damages is clear cut and easily proven, we will set our attorney fees at the reduced rate of 33 1/3%.
Our attorney’s fee percentage remains constant regardless of the point at which your claim is finally settled. Although some law firms charge a greater percentage fee if the claim is settled after a lawsuit is filed, our firm does not use such a sliding scale. We will do our best to maximize your recovery regardless of whether it is necessary to file a lawsuit or not. We believe that the sliding scale utilized by some attorneys can be subject to abuse and encourage the filing of unnecessary lawsuits in order to justify a greater fee.
The attorney’s fee does not include the expenses which we advance and pay to other persons in the preparation and presentation of your claim. These expenses include the costs of medical records, doctor’s reports and testimony, and payments to other experts for reports and testimony. These expenses are subtracted from the recovery before the percentage for the attorney’s fee is calculated.
You and we pay a proportionate share of these expenses for presentation of your claim. Because we share with you in the payment of these expenses, we strive to keep such expenses at a minimum consistent with the effective development and presentation of your injury claim.
I may be partially at fault for the accident. Does that mean I cannot recover anything?
The laws in Missouri provide that you may recover a percentage of your damages; your damages are only reduced by the percentage of fault that you may be found to have for the accident.
Can Ankerholz & Smith help me or my family with legal matters other than auto injuries?
Yes. In fact, we would like to be your family’s personal attorneys. We handle a wide variety of claims involving injuries to persons. These range from on-the-job injuries to more complex defective product claims. In addition to injury claims, our firm can provide legal counsel on a wide range of personal legal services, including estate planning and traffic matters. If you have questions about other legal matters, please do not hesitate to ask us.