Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Claims for Injured Truck Drivers
We have represented a lot of injured truck drivers over the years at the Law Office of Jason M. Hatfield, P.A. and we know that commercial truck drivers are exposed to all kinds of adverse conditions such as hazardous weather, dangerous loading docks, and faulty equipment which can all result in significant injuries. Many people do not understand the risks involved with trucking and the high incidence of injury. Usually these injuries are very significant and result in a lot of missed time from work which may entitle you to workers’ compensation. Some of the most common truck driver accidents and injuries include:
- Adverse weather conditions where the truck driver is injured from a slip and fall accident;
- Heat exhaustion from vehicle breakdowns or unloading the trailer;
- Lifting injuries while loading and unloading semi-trailers or lifting large packages;
- Truck driver accidents involving team drivers;
- Loading dock injuries from unsafe conditions; and
- Semi-truck wrecks resulting in back injuries, neck injuries, brain injuries, whiplash injuries, broken bones or loss of life.
Knowing the expense related to over the road trucker injuries, trucking companies spend a lot of time and money denying cases. Some of the common defenses include: unwitnessed injury, not in course and scope of employment, independent contractor status and failure to prove injury with objective medical evidence.
Truck drivers do not always drive in teams. So many, if not most, truck driver injuries are unwitnessed. It is very important in an unwitnessed injury to immediately report the injury. It is best to have written documentation of the report such as: a text, an email, or communication through your onboard computer. It is important to take a picture of the transmission via onboard computer, because that is sometimes difficult for us to retrieve later in your recovery process. It is also important to take photos of the injuries and the location and cause of the injury. Finally, it is helpful that the incident be reported on the driver log at a time that the trucker is actively working or in legal terms while in the course and scope of employment.
Course and Scope of Employment
Employers pay special attention to the time of the injury, especially in regard to unwitnessed injuries. Employers will require you to prove that you were injured at a time that you were performing employment services. Even if you are injured while away from home and “on the road,” you must prove that your employer was receiving a benefit from whatever activity you were performing at the time of the injury. In terms of your driver log, the injury would likely not be accepted if it occurs while you are “off duty.”
Independent Contractor Status
Trucking companies are oftentimes arguing that their truckers are not employees but are instead independent contractors. Trucking companies do not have to provide workers compensation benefits to independent contractors. The Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission (AWCC) evaluates the entire employment environment when determining whether or not you are an employee. The most important factor the Commission evaluates is whether or not the trucking company controls the means and manner of the work. Other factors considered include: method of payment, extent of control over the work, and which party provides the equipment, tools, supplies and location of the work.
Objective Medical Evidence
Once the trucking company accepts that you are an employee that was involved in an incident while in the course and scope of employment, they will then require you to prove your injury through objective medical evidence. In Arkansas, this is defined as beyond your control or in other words must be proved by something more than a complaint of pain. A muscle spasm palpated and documented by a medical professional is objective medical evidence of injury. However, the best way to prove objective medical evidence is with X-rays, CT Scans or MRI’s.
These radiological studies are often performed if you report to an emergency room immediately after your injury. I’ve found that truckers are often stubborn and don’t immediately seek medical attention. However, it is better to go ahead and seek medical attention to document the injury. Additionally, if you wait until the company sends you to an Occupational Medical Clinic, you are less likely to receive any objective testing and more likely to receive treatment that has been dictated in advance by the trucking company.
Arkansas Self Insured Trucking Companies
Many of the large trucking companies in Arkansas are what are called self-insured. This means that they don’t purchase workers’ compensation insurance coverage and instead fund work comp with their own money. I’ve found these self-insured companies fight much harder than insurance companies that have contractual responsibilities to do the right thing. The self-insureds, insurance carriers, and trucking companies have strong lobbyists and propose legislation at every session to make it much harder for injured truck drivers and their families to obtain work comp benefits.
Workers’ Compensation for Out of State Truck Drivers with Arkansas Employers
There are many large trucking companies in Arkansas which include: JB Hunt, ABF Freight Systems, PAM Transport, USA Trucking, Wal-Mart and Tyson that employ truckers from all over the country, and some of these companies require their out of state truck drivers to agree to jurisdiction in Arkansas should they get injured on the job.
Trucking companies know that out of state drivers have difficulty finding an experienced Arkansas Workers’ Compensation attorney to handle their claim, and employers bet on the fact that the truck driver will just give up and not pursue their injury claim.
Some of the difficulties faced by out of state truck drivers include:
- All hearings regarding your work comp claim will take place in Arkansas;
- The hearing location will be determined based upon where in the state your employer is located. For instance Northwest Arkansas workers’ comp cases are typically tried in Springdale, Arkansas; and
- Prior to any hearing, the trucking company will ask their lawyer to take your sworn testimony, which is called a deposition. Oftentimes, the trucking company will pay your transportation to Arkansas for the deposition, but they will not pay your transportation for the hearing.
Another complication for injured truckers is that out of state physicians must agree to accept payment pursuant to the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation fee schedule. There are many out of state medical providers that will not accept these low payments, and it can be challenging to find surgeons to treat your injuries.
Springdale Arkansas Workers’ Comp Attorney Representing Injured Truck Drivers
We have experience litigating in state and out of state truck driver workers’ compensation claims before both the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission (AWCC) and the Social Security Administration.
If you’ve sustain a truck driving injury or your worker’s comp injury claim has been denied and you need an Arkansas attorney contact my Springdale office at 479-361-3575 for your free legal consultation. The sooner we start working on your truck driving related injury case, the quicker you can start collecting your benefits.