Most auto accident cases filed by accident lawyers are filed in the district or circuit courts of the state where the accident occurred. Determining in which court you need to file your claim is based, primarily, on the amount of damages you are claiming. Bringing an auto accident claim in small claims court is not very common because most accident claims are worth more than $5,000, the limit for filing a case in small claims court.
Small Claims Court in Missouri and Arkansas
In Missouri, if your legal claim for damages does not exceed $5,000.00, you can bring that claim in small claims court. The limit does not include court costs and interest which the judge might award. If your claim exceeds $5,000.00 you can still choose to file your suit in small claims court, but in doing so, you relinquish your right to claim any amount that exceeds $5,000.00. In Arkansas, the district court hears civil personal injury claims, but any claim under $5,000 can be filed in the Small Claims Division. Small Claims matters typically involve contract and personal property claims.
Most auto accident cases are not filed in small claims court
Auto accident cases typically are not filed in small claims court unless they are very minor. That means the property damage is minor and so are the injuries. In fact, an auto accident case that ends up in small claims court usually doesn’t involve personal injuries at all. Instead, they are primarily claims for minor property damage.
Elements of proof required in an auto accident case
In order to recover in an auto accident case, whether or not you are in small claims court, you must establish that the other driver was negligent in operating the car and that negligence caused your injuries and property damage. If it can be proven that the other driver was breaking the law at the time of the accident, then negligence is much easier to establish, and may even be presumed.
Who should sue who in small claims court?
Auto accident claims should be filed by the person who owns the vehicle, even if that person was not driving the automobile when the accident took place. The person to be sued should be the negligent driver and most likely the owner of the vehicle if they are not one in the same. The Department of Motor Vehicles in your state can provide the identity of the registered owner of the vehicle.
Determining whether there were any witnesses
Judges, even in small claims court, need to hear testimony from people with knowledge about the accident. A good witness can make or break your case. The best witnesses are impartial, as opposed to friends of family members. If you are appearing in small claims court and there is a chance that your witness may not voluntarily appear in court, then you can either have the witness subpoenaed, or obtain a written sworn statement to present to the judge.
The role of police accident reports in small claims
Whenever liability for an auto accident is at issue, one of the most important steps is obtaining a police report. A police report is admissible evidence in small claims court based on the theory that the officer at the scene, who is there to investigate the circumstances of the accident, is in a better position to determine the truth.
If the information in the police report supports your claim, then you can submit it in court. If on the other hand, the police report does not, you can be prepared to refute it. Most commonly, it can be refuted by eyewitness testimony, if it’s available. In situations where neither the police report nor the eyewitness supports your claim, you may want to reconsider filing the suit.
Obtain estimates to support your property damage claim
When it comes to recovering for the damage to your vehicle, you need to be able to provide several estimates of the cost of repairs to your vehicle. Most accident lawyers recommend three estimates. If the repairs have already been completed, then you need to prove those damages by submitting your canceled check or receipt from the repair shop, along with the estimates. Your property damage claim can also include the fair market value of any other property in your car that was destroyed. You may also be able to claim the costs you incurred obtaining alternate transportation while your car was inoperable.
If you have questions regarding auto accidents or any other personal injury concerns in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a consultation, either online or by calling us as (888) 433-4861.