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Most car accidents involve the fault of one or more of the parties involved. Generally speaking, anyone injured in a car accident can file a personal injury lawsuit against the driver they feel was responsible for the accident. However, in some cases, an accident may involve not just the fault of one or more of the parties involved but also a negligently designed or poorly maintained roadway. In many states, lawsuits against state and local governments based on poorly designed or maintained roadways are permitted, but Arkansas’ system of government immunity almost completely eliminates a government’s liability in these situations.

Logging TruckArkansas law does permit an accident victim to file a personal injury lawsuit against another driver they believe to be at fault for the accident causing their injuries. If successful, the injured party can receive compensation for their past and future medical expenses, lost wages, and any pain and suffering caused by the accident.

As it pertains to claims against the government, Arkansas has a very strict system of government immunity. Arkansas government immunity prevents injured parties from filing personal injury cases against the state and local governments except in some very rare situations.

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It’s common knowledge that drunk driving is against the law. However, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, each year across Arkansas there are approximately 150 deaths caused by drunk driving. For whatever reason, the fact remains that too many drivers do not see a problem with getting behind the wheel after they have had too much to drink.

Beer TapsIn Arkansas, not only is it a criminal offense to drive while intoxicated, it can also give rise to civil liability for any damage or injuries caused in a drunk driving accident.

In addition, the Arkansas Legislature has done its part to help the victims of drunk driving accidents obtain financial compensation following an accident by enacting what is commonly known as a “Dram Shop” law. Arkansas’ version of a Dram Shop law, located in Arkansas Code Section 16-126-104, allows for some drunk driving victims to seek financial compensation from the vendor that knowingly sold the drunk driver alcohol. In order for a vendor to be held liable, the victim must prove that the establishment knowingly served someone who was either under the age of 21 or “clearly intoxicated.” In many cases, this is difficult to prove and may require a detailed investigation immediately following the accident.

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When someone is injured due to the negligence of another party, the injured party is entitled to file a personal injury lawsuit against the person whom they claim is responsible for their injuries. If the accident victim is successful in proving their case, they may be entitled to various types of damages awards, depending on the circumstances of the accident and their injuries.

GavelMost common are compensatory damages, which are designed to make the plaintiff whole again. As the name implies, these damages are meant to compensate a plaintiff for the medical and other expenses, pain, and lost income with being involved in an accident. However, in some cases, punitive damages are also appropriate.

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Last month, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case brought by a woman against her husband’s previous employer, alleging that her husband’s exposure to asbestos while on the job caused the cancer from which he ultimately died. In the case, Hendrix v. Alcoa, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case because the sole remedy for her loss was through the state’s workers’ compensation program.

Old FactoryThe Interplay Between Workers’ Compensation Claims and Personal Injury Claims

When someone is injured on the job due to the negligence of another party, there may be one or more potential claims available to the injured worker or their family. The workers’ compensation program is mandatory for many Arkansas employers and acts as a type of insurance for employers. If an employee is injured on the job, the employee can obtain workers’ compensation benefits without having to establish who was at fault for their injuries. However, workers’ compensation claims are mostly limited to medical expenses and lost wages, and these claims will not include compensation for pain and suffering.

In some situations, an injured worker’s eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits will not prevent that worker from filing a personal injury lawsuit against a negligent third party that caused the worker’s injuries. These “third-party” lawsuits are preferred for many injured workers because the potential recovery amount can be much greater, due to the availability of damages for the worker’s pain and suffering.

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In June of last year, the Supreme Court of Arkansas issued a written opinion in a wrongful death case brought by the estate of a woman who died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. In the case, Courtyard Gardens Health and Rehabilitation v. Sheffield, the court was tasked with determining if an arbitration clause contained in a nursing home admission contract was valid when it was signed by an emergency temporary custodian with Adult Protective Services (APS). The court determined that the custodian lacked the authority to consent to arbitration on behalf of the nursing home resident.

Signing a ContractThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in the case, Sheffield, is the administrator of the estate of an elderly woman, Holliman, who died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. Prior to her death, Holliman lived by herself. One day, APS received a complaint about the conditions that Holliman was living in, and an APS worker was sent out to Holliman’s home to check on her well-being.

The APS worker noticed several deficiencies in Holliman’s living situation and petitioned the court to take temporary custody of Holliman in order to find her a better living situation. The petition was granted, and the APS worker was named as Holliman’s custodian. He eventually placed Holliman in the defendant nursing home after signing an admission contract containing an arbitration clause.

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Earlier this month, the Arkansas Court of Appeals issued a written opinion that will be of interest to any putative personal injury plaintiff who signed an arbitration agreement. In the case, Rita v. Gruber, the court held that, although the selected forum mentioned in the arbitration agreement contained in a nursing home admission contract was unavailable, the fact that the parties had agreed to arbitrate means that the plaintiff’s claim must proceed through arbitration.

ContractThe Facts of the Case

In 2009, the plaintiff helped her father find housing with the defendant nursing home. The plaintiff had power of attorney for her father, and prior to his admission into the defendant nursing home, the plaintiff signed an admission contract. Contained in the contract was a clause agreeing to submit any future claims to arbitration through the National Arbitration Forum (NAF).

In October 2013, the plaintiff’s father died while in the care of the defendant nursing home. In turn, the plaintiff filed medical malpractice and negligence claims against the nursing home. By this time, the NAF was no longer available to take consumer arbitration cases because the NAF was found to have violated several consumer-protection laws when arbitrating claims and another state had suspended the NAF’s ability to take on new cases.

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This week 13 passengers on a USA Holiday tour bus were killed, and many injured, early this morning on a highway in California when the USA Holiday tour bus ran into the back of an 18-wheeler semi truck at a speed great enough to cause the bus to travel approximately 15 feet inside the 18-wheeler’s trailer, causing significant damage to the bus.   The driver was among one of the fatally injured.   Firefighters used ladders to remove the passengers through the windows of the bus.

The tour bus had recently traveled to the Red Earth Casino in Thermal, California, and was returning back to Los Angeles, California when the crash happened early this morning.   It has been reported that the driver of the tour bus was one of the company’s owners.    The USA Holiday tour bus had inspections performed on the bus in 2014, 2015, and 2016, with no mechanical citations reported.   According to news reports, the company also had a satisfactory rating for safety.

At this time the investigation into the crash is still ongoing, therefore officials are unclear as of now whether the driver of the bus was speeding, under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or whether he fell asleep behind the wheel while driving.

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The death of a driver who was using a driverless automobile is causing great concern as the number of driverless cars reach the road in substantial numbers. Over the past year I have read story after story describing the coming day when driverless cars take over the roads. A fellow attorney and I were just discussing last week whether driverless cars would make the roads safer and would reduce the number and severity of car and truck crashes. Whether safer roads will come or not, it is imperative that car and technology companies make sure their products are safe. I hope drivers do not come to rely on driverless cars and continue to stay alert and careful while driving.

According to the news reports, the driver died because the cameras on the Tesla Model S failed to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor trailer from the sky and didn’t automatically brake to stop the car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will investigate how Tesla’s Autopilot system performed at the time of the crash. Continue reading

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I recently read an article entitled, “We’ve Been Brainwashed Into Saying ‘Car Accident.’”  As I read the article, I could not have agreed more.  The dictionary definition of “accident” is “an event that is not planned or intended.”

While it is true that almost no one intends to crash their vehicle, people make choices that cause automobile crashes.  Some choices that people make include drinking and driving, texting while driving, speeding, following too close, driving fatigued, and driving with known defects, such as faulty brakes.  These are just some of the reasons or causes of car, truck and motorcycle accidents in Arkansas.  For example, when an individual decides to drive drunk, he or she is making a choice. And if a crash occurs, it should not be described as an “accident.” Continue reading