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News & Case Results

Matz Injury Law Blog

  • Jan



    Excess wage loss

    “What if my auto-related injuries will prevent me from working for more than three years?”

    The Michigan No-Fault Law says that your own car insurance is first in line to pay your wage loss if you are hurt in a crash. This is true no matter who caused the accident. If you didn’t have car insurance yourself, there is a path set out in the law that you follow to decide who is going to pay these benefits.

    No matter whose policy covers your wage loss claim, there are time limits regarding the maximum time in which you can receive wage loss coverage. There is also a limit as to how much per month you can receive (see prior post here for more information).

    We have cases where the injured person makes more than the monthly maximum that no-fault will pay, and whose injuries are so severe that it appears that the individual may never return to any job, or at least not to a job that pays as much as the one he or she had at the time of the crash. What can be done to seek compensation for those financial losses?

    It is possible to sue the other driver for “excess economic loss.” This means financial losses above the monthly maximum (right now about $5400/month), beyond the three year benefit limit, or both. Whether the other driver is going to have enough coverage to pay that much is something a lawyer can help you figure out.

    For the first three years after the accident, if you can prove 1) that you are disabled from work and 2) that you would be making more that the monthly maximum for as long as you are off work, your case against the other driver is relatively simple. Prove those two points and you win.

    However, if your claim is that you are going to lose wages after the three year wage loss legal time limit expires, things get a little more complicated. You have to be able to prove that you will (not might) be disabled for more than three years, and that you will (not might) have earned a specific amount at that time if you had not been disabled by the accident.

    The courts have consistently said that your excess wage loss claim is based on loss of income, not lost potential earnings. It’s the difference between what is going to happen, and what might happen.

    If you are a higher-income earner who is injured in a motor vehicle accident in Michigan, don’t overlook your claim for excess wage loss reimbursement.

    Source: 444 Mich 638

  • Jan



    Lawyer lending money to client

    “Can my lawyer lend me money to help me with expenses during my case?”

    We are sometimes asked by clients if we can lend them money that they will pay back to us out of the settlement we are trying to get for them. The Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct (MRPC) is the code that governs legal practice in this state. The Rules clearly state that such a loan between the lawyer and client is not allowed. The reason behind this is to assure that the lawyer is not using the promise of money to convince the client to hire the lawyer, and to assure that the advice the client receives from the lawyer is best for the client, not for the sake of the loan the lawyer wants to protect.

    The MRPC does allow the lawyer to advance the costs that go into preparing a case, for example to the court for filing fees, or to a doctor for medical reports. That’s different, because the client is responsible to repay those costs whether the case is won or lost, and none of that money is going to the client.

    You may have seen television advertisements for companies that offer to make loans to people who have cases pending. If you have a personal injury or other case for money damages, you should talk to your lawyer before you enter into any loan agreement using your case as collateral. These loans are very expensive, and can greatly reduce the value of what you will receive when your case settles. Be sure to get legal counsel before you even think about taking out such a loan.

    Source: MRCP 1.8(e)

  • Jan



    Stepchildren and PIP

    “If my spouse dies, will my children who are his/her stepchildren still be covered by his/her no-fault policy?”

    A recent case has answered “yes” to that question under certain circumstances. If the child still lives in the home where the deceased parent and stepparent also lived on the date of the accident, no-fault coverage should still apply to the child. This assumes that the child did not have no-fault coverage of his or her own on the date of the accident, because the child’s own policy would then pay the no-fault benefits.

    But the Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled that a stepparent is “related by marriage” to a stepchild (for purposes of this issue, not necessarily under all circumstances) , and that no-fault coverage applies to all family members living in a household who are related either by blood or by marriage. This is a departure from many other states, where stepparents aren’t regarded as being “related by marriage” to the spouse’s children, where death is ruled to end all relationships created by marriage, or by both of these policies.

    This issue may arise in a case, for example, in which a parent dies in a crash, and whose children/passengers are injured. If she was driving a vehicle that was owned and insured by her spouse, who is not the father of the children, his auto policy will still provide no-fault benefits to the children for such losses as medical coverage.

    Please remember that this is current Michigan law, and could change according to further rulings or legislation at any time. As with any coverage issue, be sure to consult an attorney who works in the automobile negligence field to make sure that the particular facts of your case fit the ruling of the court.

    Source: Patmon v Nationwide Mutual (unpublished 2014)

  • Jan



    Cancellation of car insurance

    “What is the difference between my insurance policy lapsing, being cancelled or being rescinded?”

    This can be an important question if you happen to have an accident and it is not clear when your coverage ended. It all depends upon what method your insurance company used to terminate your policy. We should say at the beginning, as we always do, that you should never drive without having at least basic no-fault coverage (“PL/PD”) on your vehicle. But there can be misunderstandings.

    Most policies these days have a clause that says the insurance automatically lapses if you do not renew it on time. That makes it easy. If you don’t pay before the expiration date, your coverage lapses. The company doesn’t have to send you “warning letters” or offer you a grace period. If you don’t pay on time, you are not going to have coverage after the expiration date. That’s the general rule (there can be exceptions, but don’t take that chance).

    However, there are times when your auto insurance company decides it doesn’t want to cover you any longer. Perhaps you didn’t accurately report the information on your application about where you really live, or about your accident history. Since these factors can determine how much your insurance costs, the company may decide to drop you if it finds out later that you didn’t truthfully report important information in your application.

    The company can terminate your benefits in one of two ways—cancellation or rescission. If the company cancels your policy, you will get a letter saying that you will no longer be covered after a certain date. If the company rescinds your policy, you will get a letter saying that they no longer cover you as of the date of the letter, and you will probably get a refund check in the same mailing representing any unused premium that you may have paid beyond the date the policy is rescinded.

    If you happen to have an accident after you are cancelled, but before the date the cancellation is to become effective, you are still covered. However, if you get in an accident after the date your policy is rescinded, you are not covered.

    The lessons here are:

    • never drive without insurance on your vehicle. It is against the law, and you risk complete financial responsibility for any collision damage, medical expenses or wage losses that you, and possibly others, may suffer in the crash;
    • if you don’t pay your car insurance bill on time, your coverage will lapse, and the insurance company does not have to send you a warning letter telling you that this is about to happen;
    • if you accidentally or deliberately make false statements on your insurance application, you could be guilty of a crime;
    • your insurance company may cancel or rescind your coverage at once if you made a false statement in your application that is important to how much your insurance costs; and
    • if you get a letter telling you that your car insurance is being revoked, pay close attention to whether the letter is a cancellation at some future date, or is a rescission effective immediately. This is important to whether you have any further coverage under that policy.

    Source: 213 Mich 514

  • Dec



    “Comprehensive” auto coverage

    “Does my ‘comprehensive’ auto coverage pay for property that was damaged in a collision?”

    Usually not. The comprehensive rider on you auto policy pays for damage to your vehicle that is caused if it is stolen, or is damaged in an incident that doesn’t involve a collision, such as hitting a deer. But this doesn’t usually cover things like clothing or a booster seat that might be damaged in a collision, but aren’t part of the car itself.

    Your collision coverage is the source of payment for damage to your vehicle that is caused by hitting or being hit by another vehicle.

    You might be able to use your homeowner’s policy to pay for personal items in your car that are damaged in a collision. Remember, there will be a deductible on your homeowner’s coverage, and making repeated claims on any insurance policy is going to make your rates go up. You will also have a deductible on your comprehensive coverage if you use it to pay for non-collision damage to your vehicle. You have to decide if the cost of the deductible, plus the higher premium you might have to pay after making a claim justify using your insurance.

    Don’t forget that personal items that are prescribed by a doctor, such as hearing aids or eyeglasses are medical devices that can be reimbursed under the no-fault portion of your coverage if they are damaged in a collision.

  • Dec



    Collision coverage

    “What are the different kinds of collision coverage I can buy in Michigan?”

    Vehicle owners in Michigan can buy 3 types of collision coverage, depending upon how much you want to spend, and what level of risk you are willing to take if your car is damaged. Here are the choices:

    1. Limited Collision Coverage: You can buy insurance to pay for repairs to your vehicle as long as you are not more than 50% at fault for the accident. However, if you buy limited coverage and are more than 50% responsible for the collision, you get no coverage. You are on you own to fix or repair your car or truck. This kind of coverage can be purchased with a deductible to make it even less expensive, but you will pay the deductible if you were 50% or less responsible for the damage to your vehicle, and you still get nothing if you were more than half at fault.
    2. Standard Collision Coverage: This kind of coverage will pay for the damage to your vehicle no matter who was at fault, but there will be a deductible that you will pay even if you weren’t at fault (you might get mini-tort coverage from the other driver for up to $1,000 if you were less than 50% at fault to repay your deductible—see our blog entry about mini-tort).
    3. Broad Form Collision Coverage: This is the most expensive, but the most comprehensive collision coverage you can buy. It pays to fix or replace (insurance company’s choice) your vehicle no matter who caused the collision, just like Standard Form Coverage. The difference is that you don’t pay a deductible if you were less than 50% at fault for the accident. You will pay a deductible if you were mostly at fault, but your insurance will cover the rest.

    Remember: the insurance company can place restrictions on who is allowed to repair your car, and how much the insurance company is going to pay. They are going to offer you what they consider the “fair market value” of your car, not what you think it is worth because of extras you have added. Many disputes arise over the appraisal of damage to vehicles, and you have a few options besides simply accepting what the insurance company offers to pay without questioning that offer. Attorneys who work on automobile injury cases will be able to guide you through these disputes.

  • Dec



    Serious Impairment

    “How do Michigan courts decide if an auto injury is serious enough to deserve money damages?”

    Not every injury caused by an auto accident is considered serious enough under our law to qualify for compensation. Cases of bodily injury (this discussion does not apply to scarring cases or death cases) have to meet the standards of the no-fault law and the rules set down by the Michigan Supreme Court before the victim can qualify for money damages. Here are the three things that the injured person must be able to prove in order to win a verdict or settlement in a motor vehicle case:

    1. Objectively manifested injury (in other words, something that shows up on a test, not just a complaint of pain);
    2. Important body function affected (that’s just about anything);
    3. General ability to lead your normal life affected

    So, you have to have an injury that the doctors can document, and it has to affect your life in a negative way for more than just a few days or weeks. It is also important that you are affected by the injury in a way that other people can see (there has to be more than just saying how much pain you are in).

    These standards seem to shift every few years. Also, because judgment calls are involved, sometimes you see cases where what you think would be just a minor injury gets a big settlement or court verdict, while other injuries that sound more significant get less. It all depends upon the person, the circumstances, the medical documentation, and being able to convince the other side’s insurance company that you meet all three of the threshold conditions listed above.

    Source: 487 Mich 180; MCL 500.3135(1)

  • Dec



    Survivors loss benefits

    “Are there no-fault benefits that family members can receive if the ‘breadwinner’ dies in a motor vehicle accident?”

    Yes. These are called “survivors loss” benefits. Family members who relied upon the financial support (wages and other items of “tangible value”) of a loved one can apply to the insured’s no-fault policy for reimbursement for up to three years after the accident. The survivors are also eligible to claim up to $20 a day for three years for having to pay someone else to do chores that the deceased family member customarily took care of.

    You should be aware that there are formulas for figuring out how much the family members are entitled to, and there is a maximum monthly amount that can be sought, in addition to the three year eligibility window. But as a basic premise, the fact is that family members may be entitled to no-fault reimbursement if they depended financially on an insured person who was fatally injured in a motor vehicle accident-even if the deceased person was at fault.

    Source: MCL 500.3108

  • Dec



    Injury threshold in automobile cases

    “What kinds of injuries qualify for money damages in a Michigan automobile injury case?”

    Not every collision results in injuries that qualify you to obtain money damages from the other driver for your injuries. In Michigan, there are just four kinds of cases that qualify for money claims against the owner, driver, or both of the vehicle that caused a collision. These are:

    1. Serious impairment of body function
    2. Permanent serious disfigurement
    3. Traumatic brain injury with neurological damage and
    4. Death

    The first three categories sound simple enough, but there is so much flexibility in terms such as “serious” and “permanent” that different lawyers and judges have different standards when they use the terms. Over the years, the “threshold” for what kinds of injuries qualify for damages, and which don’t, has been changed by the legislature and the Michigan Supreme Court several times, in what is said to be an attempt to draw clear lines of distinction for deciding how significant injuries must be before a person can seek damages for pain and suffering.

    But the fact remains that some insurance companies, and some juries and judges for that matter, have found that what you might think are terrible injuries are not “serious” enough to qualify for any money at all, while what appear to be much less severe injuries qualify for significant settlements or verdicts.

    If you have been turned down by the first law firm you call because they didn’t think your injuries sounded serious enough for them to be interested in your claim, you should definitely call other firms to see if they can help you. There is no “one size fits all” answer to whether a claim has value, or what that value may be.

    Source: MCL 500.3135

  • Dec



    Time limits for PIP claims

    “I heard that I only get no-fault benefits for one year after the accident. Is that true?”

    No. This is something our callers are often confused about. The “one year back rule” means you have to turn in your medical, wage loss, replacement services and other no-fault expenses to your car insurance no more than one year after you incur the expense. Let’s use an example to show you how the deadlines work. Suppose you were in a car accident and were injured on December 25, 2014. It doesn’t matter who was at fault for the benefits being discussed here. That’s what “no fault” means.

    Accident date: 12/25/14

    • You must notify your car insurance that you were hurt before 12/25/15
    • If you visit the doctor on January 17, 2015—you have to turn in the bill for that visit to your car insurance before January 17. 2016
    • If you are off work due to the injuries until August 8, 2015—you have to turn in proof of that disability to your car insurance each month you are off work, and the last month of your time off work must be turned in before August 8, 2016

    Please remember that wage loss has a three year maximum that starts on the day of the accident. You can’t get more than three years of wage loss or replacement services from your own car insurance, even if you are totally disabled (you can go after the other driver for amounts beyond three years).

    Please also remember that there is no time limit as to how long you may qualify for medical benefits or attendant care (nursing-type assistance for the seriously injured), as long as your doctor notes convince your insurance company that these claims are reasonable, necessary, and are related to the accident.

    Bottom line: Your benefits don’t expire one year after the accident. You just need to 1) notify your carrier within a year that you were hurt in the accident and 2) turn in your expenses within one year from the date you incur the expenses.

    Helpful link: http:/www.michigan.gov/documents/cis_ofis_ip202_25083_7.pdf

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