If you've been injured through someone else's fault—maybe in a slip and fall, or a car accident, or because of medical malpractice—you might think about filing a personal injury (PI) insurance claim or even a PI lawsuit. Before you do, you should understand the Arkansas laws that might apply to your case.
We'll walk you through some of the basic laws you need to know, including:
Arkansas, like all states, has deadlines called "statutes of limitations" on filing PI lawsuits in court. There's not a "one size fits all" limitation period for all Arkansas PI cases. Most fall under the state's general three-year rule, but there are special rules for some lawsuits.
In most Arkansas PI cases, you've got three years to file a lawsuit in court. (Ark. Code § 16-56-105 (2023).) Typically, the three-year clock starts to run on the date you're injured. In some situations, though, it might begin to run later.
In addition to the three-year general rule, Arkansas has special deadlines applicable to specific cases.
If you were hurt by someone's intentional misconduct (what the law calls an "intentional tort"), the deadline is one year from the date you were injured. (Ark. Code § 16-56-104 (2023).) The one-year limitation period applies to injuries resulting from:
Most medical malpractice cases must be filed in court within two years from the date the malpractice was committed. (Ark. Code § 16-114-203 (2023).) Special deadlines might apply when:
If the victim's injuries result in death, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed within three years from the date of death. (Ark. Code § 16-62-102 (2023).) When the person responsible for the killing is convicted of capital murder or first or second-degree murder, a wrongful death lawsuit can be filed at any time.
A lawsuit claiming injury or death caused by a dangerous product (called a "product liability" case) must be filed within three years from the date of injury or death. (Ark. Code § 16-116-203 (2023).)
There are a variety of exceptions to the different Arkansas statutes of limitations. Here are some (but not all) of them.
When a person who's younger than 21 years old is injured, they have three years after reaching age 21 to file a PI lawsuit. (Ark. Code § 16-56-116(a) (2023).)
If the person who injured you tries to prevent you from starting a PI lawsuit by, for example, leaving Arkansas, the statute of limitations stops running for the period of time that you're prevented from commencing the suit. (Ark. Code § 16-56-120 (2023).)
For most PI claims, the statute of limitations clock begins running on the date you were injured. But what happens if you didn't know right away that you were hurt? In that situation, the "discovery rule" might give you more time to file your lawsuit in court.
Under the discovery rule, if you didn't know you were injured and there's no way you reasonably could have discovered it, the clock doesn't start to run until you knew (or reasonably should have known) that you were hurt.
Statutes of limitations are among the most complicated of all laws. It's easy to make a mistake and miss the deadline. The cost of such an error can be devastating: Miss the statute of limitations and you lose your right to sue, forever.
Our review of Arkansas law here is, by necessity, brief. There are other limitation periods (and exceptions) that might apply in particular cases. If you've got questions about how long you have to file a lawsuit in your case, get help from an experienced Arkansas personal injury lawyer.
Your personal injury lawsuit is a type of civil case. The Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure will, for the most part, govern your case. The court will expect you to follow these rules, even if you're representing yourself.
The entry-level trial court in Arkansas—the court where most PI cases should be filed—is called the circuit court. Typically, you'll file your case in the circuit court that's closest to where your injuries happened, though sometimes the rules might allow (or require) you to file in another circuit court.
You begin your PI lawsuit by filing a document called a "complaint" with the circuit court clerk. (Ark. R. Civ. Proc. 3(a) (2023).) The complaint should describe, in separate, numbered paragraphs:
When you file your complaint, the clerk of the court will issue a summons. (Ark. R. Civ. Proc. 4 (2023).) You must "serve" (formally deliver) the summons and your complaint on each defendant. The rules for service are quite specific and you'll need to follow them carefully. (See Ark. R. Civ. Proc. 4(c-h) (2023).) You've got 120 days after filing your complaint to complete service. (Ark. R. Civ. Proc. 4(i) (2023).) The court can dismiss your lawsuit if you don't serve the defendant in time.
Most personal injuries happen because of someone's negligence—meaning the failure to act with reasonable care under the circumstances. In many cases, the party you accuse of negligence will point the finger back at you, claiming that you're also to blame. This legal defense, called "comparative negligence," is available in Arkansas.
Arkansas has adopted a version of comparative negligence called modified comparative negligence. Under this rule, if you're less than 50% at fault, your percentage of the fault reduces the damages you're allowed to collect. But if you're 50% or more to blame, you aren't allowed to collect any damages. (Ark. Code § 16-64-122 (2023).)
Here's a quick example. You were in a car accident with Doe. You sued Doe for damages, claiming Doe's negligent driving caused the accident. Doe, in turn, claims that you were comparatively negligent and asks for damages from you.
After a trial, the jury finds your total damages are $100,000 and that you were 30% to blame for the wreck. The jury decides that Doe's damages total $60,000 and assesses 70% of the blame to Doe. How much in damages will each of you collect?
Because you were 30% to blame for the accident, you can collect 70% of your $100,000 in damages: $100,000 x 70% = $70,000. Doe's auto insurance company will write you a check for that amount.
Doe doesn't fare as well. Because Doe was 70% at fault for the crash, Arkansas' modified comparative negligence rule means that Doe collects nothing.
Many states have limited, or "capped," the damages an injured person can collect in PI cases. In states where caps exist, damages for injuries like pain and suffering and emotional distress are frequent targets. Other states have capped damages in particular kinds of cases, like medical malpractice claims.
The Arkansas Constitution bars caps on most kinds of damages. (Ark. Const. art. 5, § 32 (2023).) The lone exception to this rule is punitive damages. Punitive damages don't compensate an injured person for their injuries. Instead, they're designed to punish wrongdoers and deter others from behaving the same way in the future.
Arkansas caps punitive damages at the greater of:
(Ark. Code § 16-55-208 (2023).)
If you've got an Arkansas personal injury case, chances are you're up against an experienced insurance adjuster or insurance company lawyers. If your case is simple—undisputed facts, minor injuries, and relatively small damages—you might be able to handle it on your own. But if it involves complex facts, difficult legal questions, severe injuries, or significant damages, you should have expert legal help on your side.
An Arkansas personal injury lawyer knows the court rules, understands when and how to file your case in court, and can put you in the best position to maximize your recovery. If you're ready to move forward with your case, here's how to find a PI lawyer who's right for you.