In Arkansas, when you're injured in a car accident or a slip and fall, you might consider filing a personal injury lawsuit over the incident. But what if the car accident was caused by a state maintenance worker, or your slip and fall took place in City Hall?
Filing an injury claim against the state government, or against a local government, isn't always as easy as filing a claim against a private party. In Arkansas, specific rules govern when, where, and how you can seek compensation if you're injured by the negligence of a government employee or agency. In this article, we'll explore some key points of Arkansas law related to claims against the government.
Article V, Section 20 of the Arkansas Constitution declares: "The state of Arkansas shall never be made defendant in any of her courts."
This statement is another way of expressing the traditional English rule of "sovereign immunity," which has also been adopted by the federal and state governments in the United States. Often expressed as "the king can do no wrong," this rule held that, because the king made the law, the king could not violate the law -- and could not be sued under it.
Today, every U.S. state acknowledges the rule of sovereign immunity. However, every state also creates a process by which people injured by the state's negligence can seek compensation.
If "the state of Arkansas shall never be made a defendant in any of her courts," how can an injured person use the law to seek compensation for injuries caused by a state employee or agency?
The answer lies in Section 21-9-301 of the Arkansas Code Annotated (ACA). This section lays out how the state can be held accountable when a state entity's negligence causes harm, and the process for seeking damages.
Section 21-9-301 states that government agencies, employees, and subdivisions (including local governments) "shall be immune from liability and from suit for damages except to the extent that they may be covered by liability insurance." In other words, if a government entity has liability insurance for a certain type of harm, an injured person may seek compensation from that entity if he or she has suffered the type of harm that is covered.
Section 21-9-303 of the ACA requires "all political subdivisions" of Arkansas to carry auto insurance that meets the state's minimum requirements. It also specifies that if a person is injured, or their property damaged, by a government employee or volunteer, that person may sue the insurer or the government entity responsible for the vehicle. In other words, if you're injured in a car accident involving a government employee in Arkansas, you can almost certainly seek compensation for your injuries or damaged property.
Although certain types of injury claims can be filed against the government in Arkansas, they cannot be filed in a state court. Instead, an injured person will need to file their claim with the Arkansas Claims Commission. Forms and instructions for filing these claims are available on the Claims Commission's website.
Damages in an injury case against a unit of government in Arkansas may include compensation for things like medical bills and damaged property. Damages are "capped," or limited, at the total coverage provided by applicable insurance policies. Like many states, Arkansas prohibits the awarding of punitive damages in claims against the government -- even if the government entity's behavior was grossly negligent or intentional.
The ACA gives local and municipal governments the power to create their own methods for handling claims filed against them. If you are injured by a county or city worker, for example, you'll need to use the procedure created by the county or city government.
Many municipal governments in Arkansas provide information on filing claims through their legal office or risk management office. For instance, the City of Little Rock provides information through the City Attorney's office.