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Automobile Accidents: Legal Elements & Law in Missouri

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In Missouri a lawsuit alleging motor vehicle negligence requires the following elements:

1. A vehicle was being operated at the time that the damages occurred;
2. The vehicle was an automobile, motor vehicle, or motorized vehicle;
3. The vehicle was operated by the defendant or his/her agent, servant, or
employee;
4. The vehicle was operated in a “negligent manner”; AND
5. The negligent operation was the actual and proximate cause of the
damages incurred by the plaintiff.

Elements 1 & 2: Motor Vehicle was Being Operated at Time of the Injury:

Element 1 requiring the operation of a motor vehicle at the time of the injury is self explanatory and obvious. What may not be so obvious is, what exactly is a “motor vehicle”? additionally, the Stronger court addressed the issue of defining a motor vehicle stating that a “motor vehicle” means any “self-propelled vehicle not operated exclusively on tracks, except farm tractors.” Stonger ex rel. Stonger v. Riggs, 85 S.W.3d 703 (Mo. Ct. App. W.D. 2002) citing Missouri’s definition of “motor vehicle” as defined in statutes. Basically, any self propelled vehicle except a train running on train tracks.

Element 3: Vehicle Operated by Defendant or their Employee or Agent:

Clearly to be responsible for negligent operation of a car or truck you need to be driving that car or truck. For situations involving employer responsibility for employee or agent’s negligent driving.

Element 4: Vehicle Operated in Negligent Manner:

General negligence occurs when a driver violates the standard or care or “duty” they owe to other drivers, their own passengers, or pedestrians. Therefore, to be negligent a driver must violate a duty of either “highest degree of care” or of “ordinary care.”

Highest Degree of Care (most typical in car accident cases): In Missouri the highest degree of care means: that degree of care that a very careful or prudent person would exercise in the same or similar circumstances.

This degree of care must be exercised when on public roadways. Under Missouri Statute, RSMo. §304.012.1 “Motorists to Exercise Highest Degree of Care”, the driver of a motorized vehicle on the roads is obligated to exercise the highest degree of care. Jarrett v. Jones, 258 S.W.3d 442 (Mo. 2008). A “highway” is defined as any public road or thoroughfare for vehicles, including: (1) state, county, and municipal roads; (2) streets; (3) avenues; (4) parkways; and (5) alleys.

A roadway does not need to be owned by the public to qualify under the statute, but it must be used as a public road. RSMo. §304.025.1 “Highway and Vehicle Defined”; Doolin v. Swain, 524 S.W.2d 877 (Mo. 1975); Caldwell v. McGahan, 894 S.W.2d 237 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 1995).

Ordinary Care (Private Roadways): Ordinary Care Means that degree of care that a reasonable person in the same or similar situation would exercise. Therefore a lower standard, “reasonable care” as opposed to “very careful”.

A car or truck (or any motorized vehicle) on private property, such as a mall or retail center parking lot, must be operated with ordinary care, rather than the highest degree of care as the above mentioned statutory rules of the road do not apply. Stonger ex rel. Stonger v. Riggs, 85 S.W.3d 703 (Mo. Ct. App. W.D. 2002)

Element 5: The negligent Operation of the Motor Vehicle Must be the Cause of the Injury (Actual Cause and Proximate Cause).

For general discussion of negligence, including causation see “Personal Injury – 3. Causation.” Actual Causation is just that, “but for” the driver’s negligence the injury would not have happened. i.e. “but for” the driver running the red light, the collision and injury would not have happened. This is actual causation, you also need Proximate causation meaning that the injury was “reasonably foreseeable”. Peoples v. Conway, 897 S.W.2d 206 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 1995); Donham v. Samo, 838 S.W.2d 174 (Mo. Ct. App. W.D. 1992).

An example of actual causation without proximate causation: a car crash occurred at an intersection after the electricity went out. The Plaintiff alleged the electric company negligently allowed the electricity to go out, which caused the traffic signal to go out, which caused the collision at the intersection. The power going out was the actual cause (“but for” the electricity going out the collision would not have occurred) however the court dismissed the case because even if the Plaintiff could prove the electric company was negligent, the injury was too far removed from the actual negligence and therefore not foreseeable. Logan v. Phillips, 896 S.W.2d 38 (Mo. Ct. App. E.D. 1994).

Sansone, Sumner & Lauber

7777 Bonhomme Ave #2100
St Louis, MO 63105
Phone: (314)863-0500
Email: ben@missourilawyers.com
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Sansone, Sumner & Lauber

7777 Bonhomme Ave #2100
St Louis, MO 63105
Phone: (314)863-0500
Email: ben@missourilawyers.com
Get Directions
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