SILOAM SPRINGS, Ark. (KNWA) — A Siloam Springs woman is warning others about insurance liability covering local government employees after a devastating car accident.
On August 6, 2015, Tricia Brown was hit by a Siloam Springs city employee at a traffic light. She was rear-ended by a tractor trailer and was severly injured. Her son, Jacob, 15, suffered minor injuries.
“There was piece on the seat belt and the seat belt went down and it basically amputated my arm from inside out,” Brown said.
Brown was treated at Physicians Specialty Hospital, LLC, in Fayetteville and underwent two rotator cuff surgeries. During her recovery, she saw a physical therapist at least three times a week. Overall, her medical bills exceed $80,000.
“Truthfully, our lives have fallen apart in the last three years,” Tom Brown, Tricia’s husband said.
According to Arkanas Code section 21-9-303, “All political subdivisions shall carry liability insurance on their motor vehicles or shall become self-insurers, individually or collectively, for their vehicles, or both, in the minimum amounts prescribed in the Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act, 27-19-101 et seq.”
The Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act requires every driver to have a minimum liability insurance coverage of $25,000 per person for bodily injury or death of one, $50,000 per accident for two or more persons in any one accident, and $25,000 for the injury to or destruction of property.
“For them to say, that hey, here’s 25 thousand dollars, that’s all they carry, that’s all they have to carry. That’s not right,” Tricia Brown said.
The Arkansas Municipal League released the following statement pertaining to Tricia Brown:
“On August 6, 2016, the Arkansas Municipal League’s Municipal Vehicle Program received a claim from member city, Siloam Springs. A city-owned vehicle was involved in an accident with claimant, Ms. Trisha Brown, who unfortunately was injured. Cities, like any driver in Arkansas, are required to carry liability coverage. The Municipal Vehicle Program compensated Ms. Brown for property damages within six days of the accident. Almost two years later, on April 13, 2018, the Municipal Vehicle Program received a demand package for Ms. Brown’s bodily injury claim. The Municipal Vehicle Program has attempted to obtain proper information to prepare a release for settlement and for payment of policy limits on the bodily injury claim. The requested documentation has not yet been received.”
“What generally happens is most people carry under-insured protection on their insurance policies so if they are in an accident where the other party that may be liable doesn’t have enough liability coverage, their under-insured provisions of their own policy kicks in and pays additional,” Don Zimmerman, Executive Director of The Arkansas Municiple League said.
Brown says she has uninsured motorist protection, which could cover $25,000 in bills. The other $25,000 she could receive from the Arkansas Municipal League would total roughly $50,000. Brown would still owe more than $30,000 in medical bills.
“I don’t have any idea what we’re going to do,” Tom Brown said.
“I would think that in most cases the vast majority haven’t gone to the extent that this one has, exceed both the other parties liability and their own underinsured coverage,” Zimmerman said.
According to Arkansas Code 21-9-301:
(a) It is declared to be the public policy of the State of Arkansas that all counties, municipal corporations, school districts, special improvement districts, and all other political subdivisions of the state and any of their boards, commissions, agencies, authorities, or other governing bodies shall be immune from liability and from suit for damages except to the extent that they may be covered by liability insurance.
(b) No tort action shall lie against any such political subdivision because of the acts of its agents and employees.
In other words, Brown will not be able to sue the city of Siloam Springs and recover damages that exceed the liability insurance.
“If they get hit by any vehicle its under state law, individuals, or cities, or counties, or schools or whoever it might be, the state law applies to everybody not just cities,” Zimmerman said.
Brown says this isn’t about all about the money — it’s about making people aware of these laws.
“I want my kids to know that yeah I might not be a lawyer and I might not have millions of dollars and make laws and be the one out there trying to make things better, but people say it starts with one person and maybe I’m that one person.”
Zimmerman says there is a section of the tort immunity law that allows the ability to hear and settle claims if there is a moral obligation. In addition, Zimmerman said he would be happy to talk with the Brown family so they can work through this.