For the most part, Arkansas lives up to its nickname as the Natural State. Arkansas is known for its winding roads, natural scenery, like forests and hills, and its undersized cities. Many of these cities have limited medical facilities.
For that reason, if you’re seriously hurt in a car crash in this state, the closest hospital may be far away. Such accidents usually involve much larger than normal medical bills. The average cost of a brief helicopter medevac flight has increased 60 percent since 2012, to over $40,000.
Parts of the state are different. Arkansas also features regional transportation hubs, such as Bentonville, the international headquarters of Walmart. This headquarters complex includes a huge distribution warehouse.
Large trucks move in and out of this warehouse practically 24/7/365. The average fully-loaded semi-truck weighs over 80,000 pounds. Safety is a concern in this area. The government has rolled back many large truck safety laws since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020.
Some serious injuries in high-speed collisions include shattered bones, head trauma, and internal bleeding. These injuries are serious enough on their own.
Furthermore, these injuries are degenerative. A few extra minutes without proper medical treatment could make it almost impossible to fully recover from car crash injuries. As if these things weren’t enough, insurance company adjusters try to hound victims into accepting one-sided settlement offers.
An accident attorney in Arkansas addresses these concerns. Following a serious crash, legal action is usually the last thing on a victim’s mind. Therefore, an attorney starts collecting evidence right away. A lawyer also thoroughly evaluates your case and connects you with well-qualified doctors who charge no money upfront.
Most importantly, as your case winds its way through the legal system, an accident attorney in Arkansas negotiates with the insurance company and obtains fair compensation for your serious injuries.
During the coronavirus above pandemic lockdowns, the number of fatal car crashes increased almost everywhere. Despite its relatively small population, Arkansas recorded the third-highest fatality increase in the country.
Speeding, distracted driving and impaired driving accounted for most of this increase. The rising fatalities on our roadways are a national crisis; we cannot and must not accept these deaths as inevitable, remarked the U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Speed-related collisions were a very big issue. In 2019, authorities issued just over 1,000 aggravated driving tickets. These motorists were traveling over 100mph. In 2020, vehicle traffic and traffic enforcement both dropped significantly. Yet the Arkansas State Police issued over twice as many aggravated driving tickets.
Usually, a speed-related crash isn’t an “accident.” The speedometer is literally inches away from a driver’s face. Motorists generally don’t “accidentally” speed. Instead, they deliberately ignore their speed or aren’t paying attention to it. Either way, excessive speed is negligence or a lack of care. Similar arguments could be made for distracted driving and drunk driving.
Accident attorneys in Arkansas must deal with some special rules in this area. Let’s look at these rules up close and talk about how they affect your claim for damages.
For instance, if George runs over Grace’s mailbox, George must pay damages (pay to replace the mailbox). If George is speeding when he runs over Grace as she tries to cross the street, the same principle applies.
However, as outlined above, there’s a big difference between a destroyed mailbox and a destroyed human body. Since more money is at stake, the matter is more complex. In the Natural State, an ordinary negligence claim has four basic components:
- Duty: We touched on the duty of care in a negligence claim above. The general idea of the duty of care comes from the Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you), which children once learned in school. This duty begins before drivers get behind the wheel. People who aren’t at their best because they are sleepy, drunk, stoned, sick, or otherwise impaired shouldn’t drive. As they drive, motorists must drive defensively and avoid accidents when possible. Accident attorneys in Arkansas call this responsibility a duty of reasonable care.
- Breach: Drivers breach their duty of care if their behavior falls below the standard of care. Driving while sick, which we mentioned above, is a good example.
In court, an accident attorney in Arkansas must prove a breach of duty by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
- Cause: Duty is a legal matter, and the breach is a fact question. Cause, the next element in an ordinary negligence case, is a bit of both. Legally, the victim’s injury must be a foreseeable (possible) consequence of the driver’s negligence.
For example, If Grace’s medevac helicopter crashes on the way to the hospital, George isn’t legally responsible for that injury, even though he caused the crash that put her in the chopper.
The factual cause is a connection between negligence and injury. If it was raining when George hit Gracie, the rain contributed to the wreck, but George’s negligence probably caused it.
- Damages: Many states have no-fault insurance laws. For that reason, the damages in a negligence claim are very complex. Nevertheless, Arkansas is a tort state.
Any accident victim can file a legal compensation claim. This compensation usually includes money for economic damages, such as lost wages, and non-economic damages, such as emotional distress. More on these things below.
Back to duty for a moment. The duty of reasonable care usually applies to noncommercial operators in Arkansas. Commercial drivers in the Natural State, like Uber drivers and truck drivers, have a higher duty of care.
The task of utmost care requires drivers to make prudent, good-faith decisions. In plain English, commercial drivers must go above and beyond to get passengers and cargo safely from Point A to Point B.
Even if negligence is a slam dunk, the game isn’t over yet. Next, the defendant, usually an auto insurance company in a car wreck case, gets the ball. Several defenses are available, and Arkansas has some unique rules in this area.
Before we talk about two of the more common defenses, let’s briefly talk about the purpose of an injury claim. Car crash cases don’t “blame” drivers for accidents. The driver usually isn’t financially responsible for damages. An insurance company, or perhaps a third party, must usually pay.
Comparative fault, or contributory negligence, may be the most common insurance company defense in a car crash or other injury claim. If Grace didn’t stop and look both ways before she crossed the street, the wreck wasn’t entirely George’s fault.
In all states, after jurors hear the evidence in such a case, they must divide the fault between the two parties. That division could be 50-50, 80-20, or another proportion.
As for the impact of this division, different states have different rules. Some states are pure comparative fault states. Fault division doesn’t mean much in these jurisdictions. Other states are pure contributory negligence states. If a victim is just a little responsible for a wreck, the victim gets nothing.
Arkansas is a middle-of-the-road modified comparative fault state. If a negligent driver is at least 50 percent responsible for a wreck, the victim gets a proportionate share of damages.
The comparative fault rule is very well established. The seat belt defense, another common defense, is a lot less straightforward.
Once again, almost all states have some things in common in this area. New Hampshire is the only state without a seat belt requirement. Arkansas’ variation of this law requires all front-seat passengers, regardless of age, to buckle up. The law doesn’t address back seat passengers.
Here’s the tricky bit. Arkansas’ seat belt law is A.C.A. 27-37-702. The next article, subsection 703, states that seat belt non-use is admissible in a civil action. In other words, according to legislators, unrestrained victims weren’t eligible for compensation.
In 2016, the Arkansas Supreme Court declared that section 703 was unconstitutional. The lengthy and wordy opinion is full of Legalese. So, no one other than the Supremes is really sure what it means.
As for now, however, an accident attorney in Arkansas can block an insurance company’s efforts to use a seat belt non-use against a victim. That’s all that matters.
Negligence Per Se
An ordinary negligence claim in Arkansas has a lot of moving parts. A negligence per se claim only has two basic components:
- Violation of safety law, and
- Cause (factual and legal cause).
Since a state law, like the DUI law, sets the standard of care, and the driver broke the law, an accident attorney in Arkansas doesn’t have to prove duty and breach of duty.
This doctrine seems simple enough, but it can be complex. Assume George made a rolling right turn on red and struck Grace as she was in the crosswalk. What caused the accident, George’s failure to stop completely, or the fact that he wasn’t watching the road?
This doctrine is a little different in some places. A few states, like Florida, use a more limited negligence per se rule. In the Sunshine State and a few other jurisdictions, negligence per se is only a presumption of liability. A lawyer must introduce additional evidence to obtain maximum compensation.
Safety laws vary in different states as well. Cell phone laws are a good example. Lawmakers in many states have passed at least a partial ban. Arkansas is one of the few states with no cell phone ban. It’s against the law to text and drives in the Natural State, but that behavior is illegal in all states except Montana.
Therefore, if device distraction causes a wreck in this state, an accident attorney in Arkansas must use the ordinary negligence doctrine to obtain compensation.
We touched on the kinds of damages available in most car crash claims. The lion’s share of economic losses is usually medical bills, including the medevac above costs. Other economic losses include lost wages and property damage.
Lost wages usually mean lost productivity at work. As for property damage, an item like the family car often has an emotional value as well as an economic value. Victims deserve compensation for both kinds of losses.
Noneconomic damages usually include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment in life, and loss of consortium (companionship). It’s almost impossible to put a price tag on crash-related emotional distress.
For that reason, most accident attorneys in Arkansas multiply the economic losses by two, three, or four. The multiplier depends on several factors, such as the strength of the victim’s case and any insurance company defenses.
Punitive damages are available in a few car crash claims. In 2014, a Walmart truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and struck a car carrying comedian Tracy Morgan and a few other people. As part of a settlement, Walmart reportedly paid about $90 million in punitive damages.
Once again, different states have different rules regarding the amount of damages available in a car crash claim.
Insurance companies have lobbied many state lawmakers to pass damage caps. Some people may remember the cries of “lawsuit lotto” and “jackpot justice,” which came in the wake of the infamous McDonald’s hot coffee case in the 1990s. The company paid $2.7 million in punitive damages after 79-year-old Stella Liebeck spilled hot coffee on herself. There are definitely two sides to this story, but that’s the subject of another blog.
Arkansas lawmakers tried to follow suit and enact a damage cap. In a fight resembling the row over the seat belt defense, the Arkansas Supreme Court said the restriction was unconstitutional. There’s no cap on compensatory damages either. Therefore, the jury, and only the jury, decides how much compensation a victim deserves.
This rule, which applies only in Arkansas and a few other jurisdictions, is a bit complex, so stay sharp. Frequently, a collateral source, usually a group health insurance company, pays part of the medical bills in a car crash claim. In some states, the court reduces the amount of damages according to the amount paid. Arkansas is different.
Assume Grace’s health insurance company paid half of her $50,000 hospital bill. Incidentally, fifty grand is the average injury-related hospital bill in the United States. In Arkansas, Grace’s damages were $50,000 instead of $25,000. So, her accident attorney in Arkansas could probably negotiate a larger settlement.
On a related note, there’s often a difference between the amount billed and the amount paid. Going back to the previous example, Grace’s accident attorney in Arkansas might negotiate with her doctor and reduce the $50k bill to $25k. The collateral source rule applies in these cases as well.
Alcohol Provider Liability
Restaurants, clubs, bars, and other commercial providers in Arkansas can stop alcohol-related wrecks before they start. All they must do is refuse to sell alcohol to intoxicated people. Many providers ignore this fact. They’d instead make a buck than keep people safe. Evidence of intoxication at the time of sale includes:
- Slurred speech,
- Unsteady balance,
- Prior purchases, and
- Bloodshot eyes.
We mentioned the burden of proof (preponderance of the evidence) above. That’s one of the lowest burdens of proof in Arkansas law. Consequently, a little bit of evidence goes a very long way.
If they allow incompetent individuals to use their motor vehicles, owners could be financially responsible for damages in some cases. Arkansas has some unique laws regarding commercial and noncommercial negligent entrustment cases.
U-Haul truck crashes are the most common commercial negligent entrustment claims. Typically, these drivers have little or no experience operating large vehicles. Unfortunately, Arkansas doesn’t have a vicarious liability law.
For that reason, it’s hard to sue the company in these cases. The same thing applies to non-commercial cases. Arkansas courts don’t use the family purpose doctrine. Therefore, it’s hard for an accident attorney in Arkansas to tie a family member’s negligent driving to the owner.
Major Cities in Arkansas
The rules and laws discussed above usually apply in all state courts. However, a few cities in the Natural State have slightly different rules and regulations that an accident attorney in Arkansas must deal with.
Interstate 40, which runs directly through Little Rock, is America's third most dangerous highway in America. That statistic is not too surprising. Many of the drivers on this interstate are out-of-towners unfamiliar with its traffic patterns and design. Furthermore, most of I-40 is almost constantly under construction.
Just passing through wrecks usually involve venue issues. Essentially, the venue is a court’s power to preside over a dispute. Typically, victims may file legal claims in the county where the wreck occurred or the county where the victim lives.
Either choice has pros and cons, which could affect a claim’s settlement value. For that reason, an accident attorney in Arkansas must carefully evaluate a case from this perspective.
As the University of Arkansas continues to grow, a number of fatalities were e-scooter and other riders. Roughly, these vehicles are a combination of a skateboard and a moped. The riders have no training and no protection from oncoming cars.
The lack of training could involve the comparative fault defense outlined above. The lack of a helmet might or might not be admissible, given the uncertainty above over the seat belt defense.
What is certain is that the Fayetteville City Council recently passed some special ordinances regarding e-scooter operation. These rules restrict when and where e-scooter riders may operate their vehicles. These rules could affect a negligence claim.
Venue issues in this area are quite complex. If you could call it that, part of the Fort Smith metropolitan area is in Arkansas, and part of it is in Oklahoma. If the wreck occurred on the other side of the state line, Oklahoma law usually applies, even if both the drivers were from Arkansas.
Many of the collisions happening in Springdale involve pedestrians. These victims, like e-scooter riders, have no protection against oncoming motor vehicles.
The recent uptick in motor vehicle deaths has hit this city especially hard. In the city center, pedestrian accidents are a serious problem. Most roads in Jonesboro have short red lights and wide lanes. That configuration efficiently moves vehicle traffic.
However, it’s very hard on pedestrians. At the same time, the state recently increased the speed limit on Interstate 55. There’s probably a connection between the higher speed limit and the increased fatal wrecks.
In response, the City Council passed a negligent driving law, which defines the operation of any motor vehicle on the public way or private driveway within the city without due care for the safety of others or their property upon the public way or private driveway, or for the security or property of such operator. Therefore, the negligence per se rule could apply to most vehicle collisions in this city.
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