Missouri Personal Injury Laws & Liability Rules

Missouri's statute of limitations deadline for filing a personal injury lawsuit, the state's comparative negligence rule, and more.

By , J.D.

From a car accident to a slip and fall, if you're hurt in any kind of accident in Missouri, a number of laws could have a big impact on any personal injury lawsuit or insurance-related injury settlement you decide to pursue.

In this article, we'll discuss Missouri's statute of limitations deadline for getting a personal injury lawsuit filed in the state's courts, how the state's "pure comparative negligence" rule can affect an injured person's compensation, and more.

What Is the Missouri Statute of Limitations for Personal Injury Lawsuits?

A "statute of limitations" is a law that sets a time limit on your right to file a lawsuit and have a dispute resolved in court. There are different deadlines depending on the kind of case you're filing.

In Missouri, the time limit for bringing a personal injury lawsuit in the state's civil court system is five years. The "clock" typically starts on the date of the accident or incident that led to the injury. You can find this law at Missouri Revised Statutes section 516.120.

What Happens If I Miss the Statute of Limitations Deadline In Missouri?

If you don't get your personal injury lawsuit filed in Missouri's court system before the five-year window closes, you'll almost certainly lose your right to seek a legal remedy for your injuries. This is a harsh result, and it only serves to highlight the importance of complying with the statute of limitations deadline.

Can the Missouri Statute of Limitations Be Extended for Personal Injury Cases?

The statute of limitations deadline might be extended in Missouri—or more accurately, the starting of the "clock" might be delayed—in a few situations. Let's look at a few examples.

When the Plaintiff Is Under a "Legal Disability." If the injured person Is under 21 or mentally incapacitated at the time of the accident, they'll usually have the full five years to bring the personal injury lawsuit once this period of "legal disability" ends (once they turn 21 or are declared competent) (Missouri Revised Statutes section 516.170).

When the Defendant Is Absent from the State. If the person who caused the plaintiff's injuries (the defendant) leaves the state before the lawsuit can be filed, the period of their absence probably won't be counted as part of the five-year filing period; so the "clock might start once the defendant returns to the state (Missouri Revised Statutes section 516.200).

How and Where Do I File a Personal Injury Lawsuit In Missouri?

An experienced attorney can handle the ins and outs of how and where to file your personal injury lawsuit. But in general, most Missouri personal injury lawsuits are filed in one of the two main branches of the state's civil court system:

  • Associate Circuit Civil Court, or
  • Circuit Civil Court (there are 46 circuits, one for each county in Missouri).

If your injury-related losses ("damages") look like they'll add up to less than $25,000, you'll likely file your lawsuit in one of Missouri's Associated Circuit Civil Courts. If your damages will probably amount to more than $25,000, the Circuit Civil Court (for the county where the person you're suing lives, or where the injury occurred) is typically the right place to file your personal injury lawsuit.

You might want to consider Missouri's small claims courts if your injuries are relatively minor and your damages aren't more than $5,000.

Learn more about how to file a personal injury lawsuit.

What If I Share Some Fault for My Injury In Missouri?

Like other states, Missouri has a rule that applies in personal injury court cases where the plaintiff is found to share fault for the underlying accident. Missouri follows a "pure" comparative fault rule in these situations. Under this rule, if a personal injury lawsuit makes it all the way to trial:

  • the jury or judge will make a determination as to each side's share of liability, and
  • any damages awarded to the plaintiff will be reduced by a percentage equal to their share of liability.

How Does Missouri's "Pure Comparative Negligence" Rule Work In Personal Injury Cases?

Suppose you're waiting at a red light when another driver rear-ends your vehicle. One of your car's three brake lights wasn't working at the time of the crash. Your injury lawsuit against the other driver makes it all the way to trial, and the jury decides:

  • the other driver was 85 percent at fault, while you were 15 percent to blame, and
  • your total damages add up to $30,000.

Here, Missouri's pure comparative fault rule will apply to reduce your damages by a percentage equal to your share of fault. That means your $30,000 award will be reduced by $4,500 (or 15 percent) and you'll be allowed to collect $30,500 from the other driver.

Are There Caps on Damages In Missouri Injury Cases?

A lot of states have laws that "cap," or limit, certain kinds of damages in personal injury cases. There's no across-the-board cap on damages in all kinds of personal injury cases in Missouri, but the state does place a cap on "non-economic damages" in medical malpractice lawsuits.

This means compensation for an injured patient's "pain and suffering" will be limited even if their lawsuit against a health care provider is successful—but keep in mind that compensation for the cost of medical care and lost income caused by the malpractice isn't capped in Missouri. Get the details on Missouri's medical malpractice laws.

"Strict" Liability for Dog Owners In Missouri

In Missouri, dog owners are typically held to a "strict liability" standard any time their dog bites someone. That means the animal owner can be held responsible for the bite victim's injuries and related losses, regardless of whether the owner was negligent or careless in connection with the incident. There are exceptions to this absolute liability, including where the victim:

  • was trespassing at the time of the incident, or
  • provoked the animal in any way.

Get the details on Missouri's dog bite laws (from Nolo.com)

Get More Information on Personal Injury Cases

If you'd like more information on personal claims, how they work, and what to expect, check out these articles:

For legal advice that's tailored to your situation, learn how to find the right personal injury lawyer for you and your case.

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