Arkansas law is clear. A person who causes someone else to be injured through negligence is responsible for paying all legal damages caused by the occurrence. What is not clear is the amount of money is owed. This uncertainty is often compounded by common problems such as inadequate insurance; questions of fault (where two (2) or more people may have caused the collision); and the fact that few people involved in significant collision trauma come to it without any pre-existing conditions.
Each of these common problems can give incentive to insurance companies and their teams of attorneys to deny or discount valid claims. We have acquired many tools to overcome these common barriers, but for us to be most effective we need to be involved in the matter early enough to investigate the potential for these issues to crop up and head them off at the pass.
Barriers to Obtaining Full Value
Insurance: The scope and severity of the loss will determine the extent of damages (money that must be paid). The amount of insurance coverage available is one of the most critical factors. In Arkansas, personal vehicles such as cars and trucks must have coverage in the amount of at least $25,000. For commercial trucks weighing more than 10,000 pounds, federal law compels coverage in the amounts of: $750,000 (bodily injury); $1,000,000 (bodily injury for hazardous materials); $5,000,000 (explosives). Trucks weighing 10,000 pounds or less must have coverage in the amount of $300,000 for personal injury and property damage.
As a practical matter, it is often true that the amount of insurance money available will determine the case value. Sadly, even in the worst cases of wrongful death, or life altering catastrophe, if the person who caused it has only $25,000 in insurance coverage, then this will likely be the amount paid. This is true even if the actual losses tally into the millions of dollars. Therefore, rather than leaving it to chance, many people work to obtain the benefit of additional coverage.
Additional Insurance (UIM): Given the expense of medical care, even the most significant amounts of insurance coverage can be exhausted. It is important then for the innocent victim(s) of a collision to determine whether his or her own insurance will provide additional money in the form of Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM). This type of coverage must be offered by the insurer, and it can only be rejected by proof of a signed rejection. It is unfortunate when people are injured and find out they do not have UIM coverage since the premiums are usually not significant—but this coverage must be purchased in advance.
If there is insufficient insurance available, then the maximum amount of money available to pay the claim will likely be disappointingly inadequate in most instances. That is because, in essence, a personal injury claim is one made against the person individually (to the extent of their available liability insurance). One of the main reasons insurance is required under the law is because most people do not have the money set aside to pay people they might injure through negligence. Our attorneys have the experience necessary to find and tap into all available insurance coverage.
Fault: Many victims of catastrophic injuries find the worry and anxiety of their unexpected injuries is made worse by a poorly filled out or improper police report, a confused witness, or a lack of physical evidence establishing the precise cause of the collision. Some accident victims are perplexed to find out that the insurance company for the at-fault driver suggests there is now a dispute about the color of the traffic signal or some other important fact establishing liability. It doesn’t seem to matter that the victim has a clear memory of a green light in their lane of travel or other important considerations establishing fault. An unscrupulous claims representative or one acting in good faith upon a misreporting of the facts has strong incentives to spread the blame back on the victim because the law in Arkansas imposes comparative fault. This means the value of an accident victim’s claim is discounted by the percentage he or she might be deemed to be at fault.
Pre-existing conditions: The law states that a person is only entitled to recover payments against the negligent actor for damages that are “proximately caused” by the collision or catastrophe. This means the injured victim has to muster proof showing the precise injury he or she suffered following the event was caused by the negligent event and not something else. Many people are familiar with ideas associated with the phrase post hoc ergo proctor hoc, which is just one way to describe the idea that just because one event follows another does not mean it is the cause. Even those unfamiliar with these words understand the skepticism following a pronouncement by a middle-aged fellow that his “wife caused his gray hair” because “it is no longer the same color it was on their wedding day twenty-five years ago.” These same notions of cause and effect can cut into the value of a personal injury case because insurance companies and their attorneys are experienced in gathering the victim’s medical records and highlighting prior complaints of similar sounding pain and discomfort existing for years prior to the collision. It is true that the law understands this and similarly describes responsibility for “the aggravation of the pre-existing injury,” but this can be difficult to sort out. And, if all the discussion is centered on this issue rather than the true extent of the injury, the value can be lost at trial. I have experience working for insurance defense firms and know how to combat insurance companies’ attempts to dilute the value of cases.
The point here is to highlight these issues, which can be used by insurance companies and their attorneys to cut away the responsibility to pay damages. Unlike the insurance companies, which have teams of adjusters and attorneys at their disposal, many accident victims have no idea of how to meet these challenges head on.
Here at Collins, Collins & Ray, P.A. we say that “personal injury is personal” because we know not everyone suffers the exact same damages. With this knowledge and experience, we have had many opportunities over the years to deal with the common challenges that arise due to available insurance, comparative fault, and pre-existing injuries; we have tried and true methods at our disposal to deal with them. We enjoy helping people overcome these problems as we want to help people get the best chance to move past catastrophic injuries and get back to living their lives.
Brian W. Ray is honored to represent many people needing assistance with catastrophic personal injury and wrongful death claims as well as a vast and diverse docket of civil, criminal, and business litigation cases. He has tried and settled cases all over Arkansas for many years. He is rated “Superb” by peers on the attorney directory, Avvo, and has earned status as a “Preeminent Lawyer” with the Martindale-Hubbell® lawyer index. Mr. Ray is a regularly sought out speaker for attorneys looking to obtain further legal education on many litigation and injury topics. Other attorneys and previous clients speak firsthand to his skill and dedication by referring many of Mr. Ray’s clients.
Collins, Collins & Ray, P.A., 912 West 4th Street, Little Rock, Arkansas 72201
Phone (501) 603-9911 • Fax (501) 603-9919 • Email firstname.lastname@example.org