10 Critical Steps After an Arkansas Car Accident

Protect your rights and maximize your payout after an Arkansas car accident. We answer key questions and show you how to build a strong insurance claim.

Arkansas car accidentWith improved safety features and other technological advancements, today’s cars are safer than ever. Despite these achievements, car accidents continue to occur daily on U.S. roadways, resulting in property damage and personal injuries.

Last year there were over six million car accidents in the United States¹, with more than 60,000 of those happening in the state of Arkansas.²

What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in an Accident…

If you’ve been in an Arkansas car accident, knowing what to do and say can be extremely important. This is especially true if you decide to file a subsequent property damage or personal injury claim. Many people are left with questions about applicable laws, accident reports, dealing with insurance companies or law enforcement, and much more.

To help guide you through the post-accident confusion, here is a list of 10 steps you should take following an accident on an Arkansas roadway. We’ve also provided answers to some of the most frequently asked questions that come up at an accident scene.

NOTE: The Arkansas Revised Statutes set out in this article may be found in Title 27 of the Arkansas Transportation Section.

Step 1 – Stop, Check for Injuries and Call 911

Arkansas stop call helpIf you’ve been in a car accident, the first step is to call 911 and report it. The 911 operator will asked you several questions. Stay calm. Be patient. The operator is there to help.

What information will the 911 dispatcher need?
Give the 911 operator the following:

Your location. Street names, highway exits or mile markers and landmarks are important. Tell the dispatcher what direction you were traveling and what side of the road the accident is located. This will help assure emergency personnel will arrive quickly.

If there are injuries. The dispatcher needs to know if there are obvious signs of injuries. Let them know if anyone is complaining of nausea, pain, discomfort, or if anyone is unconscious.

Details about the accident scene. Accidents scenes can be dangerous. Victims may be walking around looking for damage to their cars, not realizing there is oncoming traffic. Let the 911 dispatcher know what the scene looks like. This will help determine which emergency services need to be summoned, and whether tow trucks will be required.

Will the police be dispatched to the accident?
Local police, county sheriffs, and Arkansas State Highway Patrol have their own intra-agency policies dictating when they will be dispatched to an accident scene. In most cases, law enforcement will not be dispatched to a minor accident involving only property damage.

However, law enforcement will likely be dispatched to an accident when cars are blocking traffic, need to be towed, when drivers are suspected of intoxication, and in the event of injuries.

Am I required to provide medical assistance to an injured driver or passenger?
Yes. Arkansas law requires you to help anyone injured in the crash. This includes providing “reasonable assistance” to the injured, which means driving them or making transportation arrangements to get them to a hospital. This is required when it’s obvious that a victim is in need of medical attention or if they ask to be transported.

Can I be sued if I try to help someone who has been injured in the accident?
No. Under Arkansas’s “Good Samaritan Law“, if you believe a victim is injured to the point that their life, safety or health is in danger, you cannot be held liable for helping them.

What are my legal duties after a collision?
Arkansas law requires everyone involved in a car accident to stop at the scene. Once stopped, you must:

  • Exchange with the other parties your name, address and the registration number of the car you were driving.
  • Show your driver’s license to anyone involved, especially if there were injuries or damage.
  • Provide reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident. This includes transporting, or making arrangements to transport them to receive medical care.

What if no one was injured, and only our cars were damaged?
If the accident resulted in only minor property damage, you still must stop and exchange the information required.

Do these statutes apply to accidents if they occur on private property?
Yes. The requirements set out in this section apply to Arkansas car accidents which occur in parking lots of private businesses, or on any other private property throughout the state.

What if I hit another car and no one was in it?
If you collide with another car which is unattended you must stop immediately at the accident scene and try to locate the owner of the damaged car. Once located, you must tell them what happened and give your name and address.

If you cannot find the owner of the other vehicle, you can leave a note giving your name and address, along with an explanation of what happened.

What if I hit other property that is not a vehicle?
If you have collided with an object on or near a roadway and caused damage, you must locate the owner of the property. Once you have found them, you need to explain what happened and provide your name and address. You also need to give them the registration information of the vehicle you were driving and show your driver’s license if they request to see it.

Do I have to report the accident to the police?
If the crash resulted in injuries (including death) or property damage which appears to be $1,000 or more, you must notify the nearest law enforcement agency immediately.

How do I report the accident to law enforcement?
You can obtain the Arkansas Motor Vehicle Accident Report SR-1 form from local law enforcement or by downloading it from the Arkansas State Highway Patrol website.

Once completed, where do I send the form?
Once you have filled the form out completely, you need to mail it to:

Arkansas State Police – Safety Responsibility Section
P.O. Box 1272 – Room 1120
Little Risk, AR 72203

What if I am seriously injured and physically unable to report the accident?
If you’re physically incapable of reporting the crash but your passenger is able to, then they need to do so. This will relieve your requirement to report the accident.

Can the information in the accident report be used as evidence against me?
An insurance company may use the accident report to help make their decision regarding coverage. However, in the event the matter goes to trial, the accident report cannot be used as evidence against either driver.

Step 2 – Gathering Evidence

Arkansas gather evidenceThe evidence you gather after a car accident will become the foundation of your property damage and personal injury claim.

Accident scenes are constantly changing. Before long, cars will be driven or towed away and drivers and other witnesses will leave. That’s why the time immediately after a car accident is crucial.

If you’ve been injured or sustained damage to your car, you will need evidence to support your claim against the other driver. In order to win, you’re required to prove the other driver was at fault and the accident resulted in “damages.”

What are Damages?
Damages are unique to every car accident and to every person involved in the accident.

In property damage claims, damages can include repairs to your car, and the repairs to any personal property that was in the car.

In personal injury claims, damages can include medical, dental, or therapy bills. This includes:

  • X-Rays, CT Scans, MRIs
  • Out of pocket expenses (medications, slings, crutches, wheelchairs, nursing costs, etc.)
  • Costs of travel to and from treatment
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering (emotional distress or mental anguish)

Is there any other information I should obtain at the accident scene?
Yes. In addition to the basic information required under Arkansas law, do your best to obtain the following information. You will need much of this when completing the Arkansas Accident Report.

  • Drivers’ and passengers’ full names and contact information. If the driver isn’t the owner of the car, you’ll need the owner’s information as well. This should include:
    – home and business addresses
    – telephone numbers
    – email addresses
    – dates of birth
    – driver’s license numbers
  • The make, model, year, and license plate number, expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN) for all other vehicles involved. The VIN number can normally be found on the car’s dashboard on the drivers side near the windshield. It can also be found on the driver’s insurance card or inside the door jam of the driver’s side door.
  • Witness statements. While witnesses aren’t legally required to stay at the scene, convincing them to do so will benefit you. It gives you time to speak with them to determine if what they saw will be helpful to your claim.
  • Draw a diagram of the accident scene. Note the location of the cars immediately before and after the collision.
  • Be sure to note the current weather conditions and the time of day the accident occurred.
  • Try to guess the speed of each vehicle immediately before the collision. Also note which direction each car was traveling in.

*** Helpful tip: Keep a Car Accident Information Form in your car along with your proof of insurance and a pen. This will make it simple to get all the information you need at an accident scene.

Are photographs and video important?
Yes. Using your cell phone or a digital camera, take multiple photos and videos from every angle of the accident scene. Be sure to include sound. This evidence can identify the position of the cars immediately after the collision, the weather, road obstructions, potholes, traffic lights, street signs, and more.

Photographs and video can also reflect the demeanor of the other people involved. You may even capture admissions of fault, signs of intoxication, or other evidence that will help your claim.

What about witnesses and their statements?
Witnesses are not under any legal obligation to speak with you. However, they can be your best source of information to support your property damage and personal injury claim.

If you find one or more witnesses to speak with you, give them a pen and a piece of paper and ask them to write down what they saw and heard. This is especially important if their statement supports the other driver being at fault. They may have seen the other driver speeding, rolling through a stop sign, texting, or some other action which can support your claim.

After they have written down their version of what happened, ask them to sign and date each page. There is no legal requirement to have witness signatures notarized. Notarized signatures only become important if someone later takes the position the signatures are forged. This rarely occurs.

Step 3 – Report the Accident to Your Insurance Company

Arkansas call insuranceYou may not realize that your car insurance policy is actually a binding contract between you (the “Insured”) and your insurance company (the “Insurer”, “Carrier” or “Underwriter”). This policy obligates your insurance company to provide coverage, which often includes an attorney to represent you at no cost in the event of a lawsuit.

Just like the insurance company has an obligation to provide coverage, you’re obligated to cooperate with them in the event there is an accident. You can find the exact wording of what this requirement means in the Notice of Occurrence and Cooperation Clause.

This section requires you to promptly notify your insurance company in the event of an Arkansas car accident, and to then cooperate with them throughout their investigation. This is true whether you caused the accident or not. Failing to cooperate can result in your premiums being raised, your policy not being renewed, or in some cases, cancellation of your policy.

Here’s an example of what a standard Cooperation and Notice of Occurrence Clause…

“The …Insured agrees to timely notify the Insurer of any accidents and provide all the information, assistance and cooperation which the insurance company reasonably requests, and the insured agrees to do nothing that shall prejudice the insurance company’s position in the property damage or personal injury claim…. The insured also agrees that in the event of a lawsuit filed over the accident, the insured will attend court hearings, depositions, and will cooperate in other matters related to the lawsuit…”

Why do I have to notify my own insurance company if I didn’t cause the accident?
If you report the accident to your insurance company you may be concerned they’ll raise your rates or cancel your policy. But that can be a critical error. By failing to report the accident, you would not only be violating the contract between you and your insurance company, but you would have also unintentionally given the other driver and their insurance company a substantial advantage.

Do I have to report the accident to my insurance company if no one was injured?
Yes. Always report any collision, no matter how minor it may seem at the time. For example, let’s say you just finished shopping at the mall and are ready to leave. Unfortunately, you and another driver both back out of your parking spaces at the same time, resulting in a minor collision.

After looking at the damage to both cars, you see that neither of you had more than a couple of scratches. You and the other driver say “no harm-no foul” and agree not to report the accident to your insurance companies. After exchanging information you both went on your way. That was a mistake!

Here’s why….

Violation of the Cooperation Clause. You violated your obligation to report the accident to your insurance company. By failing to do so, you are in violation of the terms of the policy.

Delayed Symptoms. At the accident scene, the other driver and his passengers told you they were uninjured. But the onset of some symptoms can take hours, and even days to appear.

No Insurance. The other driver may have been uninsured, or underinsured at the time of the accident and didn’t want you to know. This may cause them to want to agree not to call the insurance companies or authorities.

Fraud. There are some people who purposely involve themselves in accidents to “cash-in” by filing fraudulent personal injury claims, even when the accident was no more than a fender-bender. Your insurance company needs time to thoroughly investigate the accident in an effort to protect themselves, and you.

Are there mobile apps to report the accident to the insurance company?
Yes. Today, many insurance companies have mobile applications to help report Arkansas car accidents.
The applications may have the ability to:

  • Initiate a claim
  • Fulfill the reporting requirement with the insurance company
  • Create and send state required auto crash reports
  • Take photographs
  • Draw a 3-dimensional sketch of the accident scene
  • Collect detailed personal information for all others involved
  • Give a GPS location of the accident scene

Below are just a few of the companies offering car accident reporting applications:
C.A.R – Car Accident Report
Personal Accident Report
Help. I Crashed My Car
Allstate Insurance Company
Google Accident Report

Step 4 – 3rd Party Tort Liability: What it Means to You

Arkansas 3rd partyArkansas is not a no-fault insurance state. Instead, the State of Arkansas follows the “3rd Party Liability Tort Doctrine.”

What is 3rd Party Tort liability?
In Arkansas car accidents, 3rd party liability means an at-fault driver can be held responsible for their actions when they cause property damage or personal injuries to others. In 3rd party liability states, victims of car accidents have options when it comes to seeking compensation.

What options do I have if another driver caused the accident?
If you sustained property damage or personal injuries because of the actions of another driver, you have 3 primary options. They are:

  1. File an accident claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
  2. File an accident claim with your own insurance company
  3. Sue the negligent driver

Step 5 – Arkansas Comparative Negligence Law

Arkansas comparative negligenceArkansas is one of 33 states to adopt the Modified Comparative Fault – 50% rule. Under this rule, when the victim of a car accident shares some fault, the compensation ultimately paid to that victim decreases.

This reduction in compensation is directly proportional to the amount of fault they had in causing the accident in the first place. However, if the victim’s percentage of fault reaches 50% or more, the victim is barred from receiving any compensation from the other driver(s).

Example of how the Arkansas Comparative Negligence Law works:

Agnes was driving home from work, in the right lane on Old Route 7 past Arkansas State University. David was driving right behind her and wanted to pass Agnes. To do so, David moved into the center lane and increased his speed. Once past Agnes, David began to move back into the right lane in front of Agnes.

Unfortunately, when moving back into the right lane David’s car collided with the front fender of her car, causing Agnes to veer off into a tree, causing property damage and personal injuries to her.

Agnes filed a claim with David’s insurance company. David’s insurance company denied her claim using as a basis for the denial that instead of permitting David to safely pass, Agnes accelerated to thwart David’s return to the right lane.

Agnes sued David for $100,000, representing her property damage, medical and chiropractic bills, out of pocket expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. At trial, witnesses testified they were in a car just behind Agnes and saw her accelerate when David was attempting to move back into the right lane.

As a result, the judge found Agnes contributed to her own injuries by accelerating when David was trying to move back into the lane in front of her. This was a violation of Arkansas Revised Statute § 27-51-306 (2) – Overtaking of Vehicle on Left – which reads in part:

“Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall yield to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle and shall not increase the speed of his or her vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.”

The judge also decided David was at fault because he moved back into the lane in front of Agnes before it was safe to do so. This was a violation of Arkansas Revised Statute § 27-51-306 (1) which reads in part:

“The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass to the left at a safe distance and shall not again drive to the right side of the roadway until safely clear of the overtaken vehicle.”

Applying the Arkansas Comparative Negligence Statute, the judge apportioned David’s fault at 60% and Agnes’s fault at 40%. As a result, Agnes only received $60,000 of her claim, representing her 40% fault and David’s 60%.

In the event the judge would have found Agnes was 50% or more at fault, Agnes would have been entitled to $0, representing Arkansas law which prohibits awarding any money for damages when the victim’s fault is 50% or more.

Step 6 – Understanding Arkansas Car Insurance Requirements

Arkansas insurance requirementsArkansas law requires drivers to carry property damage and personal injury insurance. Requiring insurance coverage assures victims of car accidents have a way of being reimbursed for property damage and personal injuries sustained in an Arkansas car accident.

What are the minimum amounts of insurance coverage I am required to carry?
In Arkansas, drivers are required by law to carry the following minimum amounts of insurance coverage:

  • $25,000 for one person injured in one accident
  • $50,000 for two or more persons injured in one accident
  • $25,000 per accident for property damage

When you apply for liability coverage, Arkansas law requires the insurance company to offer uninsured motorist coverage for property damage and personal injuries.

To learn more about Arkansas law and the specific requirements for minimum insurance coverage, you can read the Arkansas Insurance Department Guide.

Step 7 – The Role of Law Enforcement at Accident Scenes

Arkansas policeIn most cases, the location of the accident will determine which law enforcement agency has jurisdiction over the accident. Responding law enforcement personnel may be city police officers, sheriffs’ deputies, or Arkansas State Troopers. In some cases there may be overlapping jurisdiction.

What is the role of law enforcement at accident scenes?
Law Enforcement Officers are highly trained in car accident investigation. When officers are dispatched to an Arkansas car accident scene their primary duties are:

  • Secure the accident scene to make it safe for other motorists
  • Summon fire, rescue or EMT’s if required
  • Investigate possible causes of the accident, including skid marks, driver demeanor, road obstructions, and weather conditions
  • Question drivers, passengers, pedestrians and other witnesses
  • Run background checks on those at the scene
  • Issue traffic citations (where appropriate)
  • Administer field sobriety tests (where applicable)
  • Make arrests (where appropriate)

Do I have to listen to the police even if I haven’t done anything wrong?
Yes. When law enforcement arrives at the scene you’re required to follow their directions. Be sure to let the officer do his job without getting in his way or making unnecessary comments. This type of behavior may cause you to be charged with obstructing an investigation and could ultimately lead to your arrest.

What if I’m issued a traffic citation?
If the investigating officer comes to the conclusion that you were in violation of one or more traffic laws, you may be issued corresponding traffic citations. You have the right to try talking the officer out of them. However, once they’re issued you must accept and sign them if requested.

A traffic citation, even when signed, is not proof or admission of guilt. A traffic citation is merely an agreement that you will appear in court at a certain time and date. On that date, you may choose to contest the citation and ask for a trial or try to work out a deal with the prosecution.

Depending on your driving record, you may be able to negotiate a plea that defines a probationary period in which you agree not to receive any further citations. You may also have to pay a fine and possibly attend a defensive driving course. However once completed, the citation may be dismissed and not appear on your driving record.

Step 8 – Watch Out for the Statute of Limitations

Arkansas statute limitationIn car accidents, the Statute of Limitations is the legal time period the victim has to either settle their claim or file a lawsuit. This time period begins on the day of the accident. Failing to be mindful of this date will result in forfeiting the right to pursue the at-fault driver for compensation for your property damage and personal injuries.

What is the Statute of Limitations for property damage and personal injury claims in Arkansas?
Arkansas’s Statute of Limitations for personal injury claims is 3 years. This means you must either settle your claim or file a lawsuit within 3 years from the date of the car accident. If you fail to do so, you will lose your legal right to pursue compensation against the at-fault driver.

The Statute of Limitations is approaching and the insurance company won’t return my calls. What should I do?
The insurance company’s claims adjuster is not required to assist you in settling your personal injury or property damage claim. In fact, it may be in their best interest to let that date pass. It’s up to you to either settle or file a lawsuit within the 3 year Statute of Limitations period.

You must remain vigilant. Don’t been fooled by the claims adjuster. No matter how friendly the adjuster seems, it’s entirely your responsibility to act within the 3 year time period. Be sure to enter the statute of limitations date on your calendar, your cell phone and anywhere else that will remind you of the impending limitations date. Give yourself plenty of reminders.

Step 9 – Do I Need a Lawyer?

Arkansas hire attorneyMost property damage claims can be managed without legal representation. So can certain personal injury claims. However, there are other personal injury claims which always require the expertise of an experienced personal injury attorney.

What are the different types of claims?
There are 2 categories of personal injuries. These are generally referred to as “soft tissue,” and “hard injuries.”

Soft tissue injuries can include sprains and strains, minor bruising, abrasions and cuts not requiring stitches, first degree burns and whiplash.

Soft tissue injuries are normally not complex and don’t result in substantial medical bills. There is generally a short period of time requiring physical therapy, ranging from a few weeks to several months. Soft tissue injuries also result in a nominal amount of prescribed medications, some lost wages, and a relatively low amount of pain and suffering.

There are also much more serious hard injuries. Hard Injuries can include head trauma, disfigurement, loss of body parts, compound fractures, third degree burns, scarring, and poisoning. Treatment for these injuries can include extensive medical treatment, diagnostic testing and more.

In hard injury claims, victims representing themselves are at a substantial disadvantage. They simply don’t have the skills required to persuade insurance company claims adjusters to offer fair settlements.

Skilled claims adjusters can lead victims to believe they are great negotiators. However, you can be sure the claims adjuster won’t tell you the policy limits of the insured, or how the settlement offer was arrived at.

Claims adjusters are not required to help you get what is fair. The claims adjuster has one loyalty, and that’s to their employer.

No matter how empathetic the adjuster may seem, don’t believe it. In most cases, it’s just a rehearsed act intent on saving the insurance company as much money as possible. They will try just about anything to convince you to accept the lowest possible settlement.

Once the claims adjuster tells you that’s his or her final offer, you’re stuck. At that point, it’s “take it, or leave it,” whether you want to or not. The adjuster knows there is little or nothing you can do to change the offer.

In a serious injury claim, you won’t know whether the driver who crashed into you had the minimum amounts of liability insurance or much more. Or whether the driver admitted fault to a third party other than yourself, had previous accidents, a prior license suspension, prior arrests, or other issues which would serve to support a much higher settlement.

This is where the experience and expertise of a personal injury attorney is so important. They have a plethora of legal tools to rely on, including:

  • filing a lawsuit
  • taking depositions
  • hiring a private investigator
  • subpoenaing witnesses
  • hiring medical experts
  • finding accident reconstruction experts
  • filing motions

This information would be extremely difficult, and in most cases impossible for you to acquire on your own. Lawsuits cost insurance companies millions of dollars each year in legal fees, settlements, and other costs. As a result, rather than having to pay legal fees to defend a lawsuit, the insurance company may prefer to settle your personal injury claim with your attorney, outside of court.

How much do attorneys charge?
Most personal injury attorneys do not charge any legal fees for an initial office consultation. Once you settle on an attorney to represent you, the attorney will accept your case on a contingency fee basis.

A contingency fee means you will not have to pay the attorney any legal fees until the attorney settles your case or wins it at trial. Once your claim is settled or won, you will only have to pay the attorney a percentage of the gross settlement amount or court award. Those percentages range from 25% to 40% depending on the complexity of the case. In most cases, the amount is 33.3%.

However, in the event your attorney is unable to settle your claim, or loses the case in trial, you will owe the attorney nothing.

Can I negotiate the attorney’s fees?
Yes. There is nothing wrong with “shopping around” for the right attorney. The “right” attorney is the one you have the most confidence in, and with whom you feel the most comfortable.

The attorney representing you has to pay all the costs of the lawsuit in advance out of his or her own pocket. These costs can include private investigators, court reporter fees, filing fees, and more. These costs can be substantial, especially in a serious injury claim.

Your attorney has a built in incentive to settle your claim or win a court verdict in as a high an amount as possible. The attorney not only has an ethical duty to do so, but the higher the settlement or court verdict, the greater the attorney’s fees.

Where do I start?
Gather all of your documentation and medical records related to the accident. Make a list of several personal injury attorneys in your area that you would like to speak with, and start setting up consultations. After reviewing your documents and asking you questions, the attorneys will be able to tell you the viability of your claim, whether or not it may settle, if a trial may be required, and the general amount you could get in a settlement or court verdict.

Step 10 – When Small Claims Court Becomes an Option

Arkansas small claimsThere are times when filing a lawsuit against a driver may be your only option, but you can’t find an attorney to take your case. When this occurs you can consider suing the driver in one of Arkansas’s Small Claims Courts.

Why would I file a lawsuit in Small Claims Courts?
You can file a small claims lawsuit when:

  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company denies your claim
  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company offers a settlement below what is fair
  • The at-fault driver was under-insured or uninsured
  • An attorney will not accept your case

How much can I sue for in Arkansas Small Claims Court?
In Arkansas Small Claims Courts, the maximum a party can sue for is $5,000.

How can I find out more information about filing a lawsuit?
To access the policy and forms required for filing a lawsuit in Arkansas Small Claims Courts, you can visit the AR Attorney General’s website.

Do I sue the at-fault driver’s insurance company?
No! You sue the at-fault driver. The driver’s insurance company did not cause the accident and therefore has no liability. The insurance company is legally required to defend their insured up to the limits of the policy. This includes providing an attorney at no cost for their insured if a lawsuit is filed.

Are attorneys allowed in small claims court?
No. Attorneys are not permitted to appear in Arkansas Small Claims Courts.

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>