One moment you are cruising down I-49, whistling the tune of “The Arkansas Traveler” and enjoying some of the best scenery The Natural State has to offer. The sun is shining and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. The life of a trucker has its difficulties, but it is times like these when you are reminded that there is little else you’d rather be doing for a living. Trucking isn’t just a job, it is a lifestyle; your lifestyle.
Then everything changes in an instant. A car blows out a tire and swerves in front of your truck. You skid and swerve to avoid it and the next thing you know there you are jackknifed on the side of the road. Then you feel the pain. Your head, your neck, your back, your chest, your legs — everything hurts. In a matter of seconds you’ve gone from thinking “Life is great” to thinking “Now what…?”
Injuries to Truckers Are Unfortunately Common
The first thing to remember is that you are not alone. Trucking is a dangerous job. Not only are there approximately 500,000 vehicle accidents each year in the United States that involve trucks, but there is potential danger involved in just about every aspect of a trucker’s job. Loading and unloading your cargo, performing truck maintenance, being seated in the same position for hours and hours on end are all things that can lead to injuries either from a sudden accident or extended repetitive stress on the body over time.
However, the fact that the life of a trucker is a dangerous one and that many other drivers suffer injuries while working is of little solace to you at this point. All that matters to you is that the injuries you sustained will prevent you from performing your job. In an instant you have lost both your lifestyle and livelihood. So back to that question: “Now what…?”
Workers’ Comp Benefits Are Available to Most Truck Drivers
Fortunately for you, all truckers working for companies with 3 or more employees are covered by Arkansas Workers’ Compensation laws. These laws exist for the purpose of assisting people in the exact position you find yourself in. If you are unable to work because of a job injury, your Workers’ Compensation policy takes care of the medical expenses and pays you money to live on until you are able to go back to work. The coverage has been paid for by your employer at no cost to you and you can expect to receive up to two-thirds (2/3) of your average weekly wage in tax-free cash payments.
What Type of Benefits Can I Receive and For How Long?
How long you are able to receive these payments is determined by the class of disability under which your injuries fall. These four categories are Temporary Partial Disability (TPD), Temporary Total Disability (TTD), Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) and Permanent Total Disability (PTD).
- Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) – This means your injuries prevent you from performing your normal duties but may not prevent you from performing other duties. Compensation rate is 2/3 of the difference between your average weekly wage prior to the accident and your wage-earning capacity after the injury. This amount will shrink as your injuries heal and your wage-earning capacity increases. Once you have healed to the extent that you are able to return to your normal job the payments will cease.
- Temporary Total Disability (TTD) – This means that your injuries completely prevent you from working but that your physical condition is expected to improve to the point where you will be able to perform at least some duties in the future. Compensation rate is 2/3 of your average weekly wage prior to the injury and you will continue to receive that amount up until the point where you are medically determined to be able to return to work in some form or 450 weeks after the initial loss of wage, whichever comes first.
- Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) – This means that your injuries will prevent you from performing at least some of your normal duties for the rest of your life. This is the most difficult class of injury to quantify as there are a range of factors that come into play such as the extent of your injuries, your age, education, work experience, and other matters that may affect your future earning capacity. Arkansas law lists many different types of injuries and specifies the benefits for those injuries in terms of the number of weeks of compensation due. Permanent partial disability benefits are paid at 75 percent of the Temporary Total Disability (TTD) rate.
- Permanent Total Disability (PTD) – This means that the injuries you sustained will prevent you from returning to work in any capacity for the rest of your life. Compensation rate is 2/3 of your average weekly wage prior to the injury. These payments will continue up to the point you reach the state-mandated maximum benefit which is determined by the date of your injury. Arkansas’ most recent maximum amount is just over $200,000.
How Do I Get Workers’ Comp Disability Benefits?
Now, back to your initial question of “Now what…?” First things first, report the injury to your employer who must then report the injury to the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission (AWCC). Arkansas Workers’ Compensation laws were created to guarantee prompt, automatic benefits to injured workers. If your claim proceeds routinely, your interaction with the AWCC will be, at most, minimal. You will regularly receive your treatment and payments which will allow you to return to full health and get back behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, claims do not always proceed routinely. By law, your employer reserves the right to choose your initial medical examiner. If you are not pleased with the treatment provided by this examiner or if this examiner’s determination of your injuries leads to a denial of benefits, it is time to contact an Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Attorney. Similarly, if your employer is non-cooperative or exercises its right to challenge your disability claim, it is time to contact an Fayetteville AR Workers’ Compensation lawyer.
Under Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Law, fees for legal services are not valid unless approved by the Commission. In contested cases, one-half (1/2) of the attorney’s fee is paid by the employer or the insurance carrier and one-half (1/2) by you out of compensation awarded. This means that under normal circumstances, unless you are awarded benefits, you do not owe an attorney’s fee.