With the summer nearly upon us, many are planning getaways from the daily grind. And, as is frequently the case in our four-state area, many of these are likely short weekend trips across state lines. Residents cannot wait to have the open road in front of them, the wind blowing through their hair, with the promise of adventure and excitement along the way.
Unfortunately, there are times when these trips do not go as planned and the intended escape from stress becomes derailed by a driver whose careless decisions cause a collision.
At our firm, as auto accident lawyers licensed in the four states, we understand that the location of your crash could impact some of your rights and responsibilities when filing an injury claim.
In this blog, we focus on a few of the differences between the laws governing auto injury claims in Missouri and Arkansas. If you’ve been injured, keep reading for insightful tips on laws that could affect your claim.
Highest Degree of Care vs. Ordinary Care
One of the first differences appears in the duty that each owes as a motorist. In Missouri, the law requires that, while operating our vehicles on public roadways, we exercise the “highest degree of care,” meaning the same degree of care a very careful person would use under the same or similar circumstances.
Under Arkansas law, motorists are instead only expected to use “ordinary care,” i.e. what a reasonably careful person would do under the same or similar circumstances.
While we would like to think that everyone would use the highest degree of care while driving regardless of their location, this is not always the case. In determining whether a driver was negligent in an auto injury claim, a jury will ultimately judge whether a reasonably careful person would have been able to stop in time, or would have waited a bit longer to enter the intersection, etc.
How Long Do I Have to File a Claim?
A question we frequently receive from injury victims is: How long do I have to file an injury claim after my accident? Under Missouri law, an adult has five years from the date of the collision to either resolve their injury claim or file a lawsuit to preserve their claim. Arkansas requires adults to file their lawsuit within three years of the date of the collision. For the claim to be preserved, Arkansas also requires that the defendant(s) be served with the lawsuit within 120 days of filing.
Both states also have “tolling provisions,” or additional time, for cases involving an injured party who was a minor at the time of the collision. In both states, the minor has up to three years after their 21st birthday to bring their lawsuit.
Rights of Injured Motorists
In addition to the differences affecting the duties owed by motorists and the duty to timely file a lawsuit, there are also differences in the rights of injured motorists who are bringing claims.
Claiming the “Right” Amount
Under Arkansas law, an injured motorist is entitled to claim the reasonable amount of their medical expenses without any deductions from their medical bills for amounts paid by health insurance or other sources. When presenting evidence of medical bills, an injured party is entitled to introduce evidence of the original total billed amount, regardless of whether they have any source of insurance paid on those bills.
Missouri law has been in flux for several years on this issue and, to this date, it remains an area of debate among legal scholars. In 2017, the Missouri legislature passed a law that, on its face, claims to limit the evidence of medical bills to only those amounts actually paid on the injured party’s behalf, or those that remain owed.
What this means in application is that if a person had a $10,000 hospital bill and has private health insurance that paid $5,000 to settle the bill with the other $5,000 being written off by the provider, the victim could claim $5,000 on that bill.
If the injured party instead had government insurance such as Medicaid, the amount paid on the bill might be significantly smaller, sometimes as little as $500 on a $10,000 bill. In such circumstances, the injured party would be limited to only presenting evidence that the bill was $500 even though it started at $10,000.
Percentage of Fault & Recovering from the Defendant
In both states, the defense is entitled to argue and present evidence that the injured party has some degree of fault for their own injuries. In such cases, juries are tasked with weighing the evidence and assigning a percentage of fault to each side.
Under Missouri law, an injured party can recover from the defendant driver so long as the defendant driver is found to be at least 1% at-fault. The Judge reduces any money awarded by the jury based on the injured party’s percentage of fault. For example, if a plaintiff is awarded a verdict of $10,000 but is found to be 50% at fault for the collision, they would only be entitled to collect $5,000 for the medical bill.
Arkansas takes a stricter approach. Under Arkansas law, an injured party is only entitled to recover if the defendant driver has more fault than they themselves do, i.e. if the plaintiff has less than 50% fault. If the injured party is found to be 50% or more at fault, they will not be entitled to anything from the defendant driver.
Wrongful Death Claims
When lives are lost in a collision, Missouri and Arkansas laws differ as to who can legally bring a claim for wrongful death, as well as what types of harm can be claimed as damages. Missouri generally allows for wrongful death lawsuits to be brought by the surviving spouse, parents, or children of the deceased. Arkansas also allows a claim to be made by the deceased siblings.
Both states allow for death claims to be made for money-based harms that stem from the person’s death, such as funeral expenses and lost wages/earnings capacity. Both states also allow the heirs to bring claims for emotional harms they have suffered as a result of losing their loved one.
One difference between the two states is that, under Arkansas law, a claim can also be made by the estate of the deceased for the deceased’s loss of life. In such a claim, the jury is tasked with determining what value the deceased person’s life had to them and assigning a dollar value to that loss. Missouri does not have an equivalent “loss of life” claim.
Experience Representation for Your Auto Accident Case
These are just a small sampling of the many differences that exist in the laws impacting auto injury claims in Missouri and Arkansas. There are many more differences that also exist in the laws in Oklahoma and Kansas.
When hiring an attorney for an auto injury in the four-state area, it is important to know that the attorney you hire is knowledgeable on how your duties and rights may vary depending on the location of your collision.
Here at Johnson, Vorhees & Martucci, our lawyers have more than 140 years of combined experience practicing in all four states. We can confidently guide you through the auto injury claim process and advocate on behalf of your best interests throughout the process.
To learn more about our legal services, contact our office at (833) 600-0125, or complete an online contact form here. A member of our team will be in touch shortly.