Michigan Car Accident FAQ

Written by Steven Matz on . Posted in .

As experienced car accident attorneys in Michigan, we have come across many different car accident cases.  Here are some of the most common questions we get about auto accidents in Michigan.  If you have any additional questions or want to speak to an attorney, contact us through our online form or call 1-866-22Not33.

Here is what is covered in this car accident guide.

Suing Without Car Insurance in Michigan

“I was hurt in an accident caused by another driver. I didn’t have insurance on my car, but why does that matter if the accident was his fault?”

This is one of the most common questions we get from callers. In Michigan, you can’t sue the other driver for pain and suffering if you were driving your own vehicle at the time of the accident and you didn’t have insurance on that vehicle. The intent behind this law is to prevent people from having the financial benefit of the insurance system without paying into the system. It is true even if the other driver was 100% at fault.

You should also know that the No-Fault law also says that you are the “owner” of a vehicle, even if it belongs to someone else if you have the right to use that person’s vehicle for more than thirty days. In other words, if a relative lets you use an uninsured vehicle that is in his or her name whenever you wish, and this is an arrangement that is intended to last at least thirty days, insurance must be purchased for that vehicle, even though it is not “yours” in the common meaning of the word. If you get in an accident in that uninsured vehicle, you will not get no-fault wage loss or medical coverage, wage loss or other benefits. You also cannot sue the other driver for pain and suffering.

Don’t try to “get around” the requirement that there is insurance on the vehicle you are driving. The law is very strict and very clear on this point, and the consequences for violating the law could mean financial disaster for you even if you were not at fault.

car accident took out front bumper

Rehabilitation Benefits of No-Fault In Injury Case

“What kinds of rehabilitation benefits will no-fault insurance pay in serious injury cases?”

The No-Fault Act says in general terms that the auto insurance must pay for “reasonably necessary” medical and nursing care, products, services and accommodations related to a motor vehicle accident. Examples of such services might include physical, occupational, and speech therapy, in-home care, transportation costs to obtain treatment and modifications to a home to make it accessible to an injured person during recovery.

Recent court decisions mean that the insurance company may only have to pay for items that are ”over and above” what the injured person might have needed even before the accident. Take, for example, the case of a woman paralyzed in a car accident, and confined to a wheelchair thereafter. The auto carrier, according to the recent court decisions, may not be responsible to buy her a specially-equipped van that will permit her to drive or be driven to her medical appointments. Rather, the insurer may argue that she needed some sort of vehicle to get around anyway, and that the company will only pay for the modifications to a van that she buys on her own! This is an area where many new lawsuits are being filed.

Another example pertains to home modifications. The insurer has the option of fixing the patient’s current home to accommodate her injuries, or it can decide that it would be less expensive to move the client to a home that is better suited to her needs. There can be considerable friction between a family that wants to stay in its current home and an insurer who will only pay for a (less expensive) place that won’t cost as much to get ready. That friction often leads to lawsuits by the patient against his or her insurance company.

The main area of conflict with nursing and rehabilitation services comes when the insurance company argues that the care isn’t reasonable, necessary, or related to the collision or some combination of those factors. The insurance company may conduct its own review, and if its hired expert says the care doesn’t meet all three of these factors, the insurance company will cut off payment for those services.

In many instances, it is necessary to file suit in order to enforce the requirement that the insurance company will pay for services, products, and accommodations that the patient believes are needed to cope with the effects of an automobile accident.

Does The Other Driver’s Insurance Cover My Medical Expenses?

“Why should my car insurance have to pay my medical and wage loss expenses if the other driver caused the accident?”

This is probably one of the most common questions we have heard in more than 35 years of practicing auto law in Michigan. It is certainly reasonable to assume that the person who caused the accident between vehicles should pay the medical and economic expenses that the innocent parties incur. In fact, that’s the way it is in most states.

Michigan Laws in Car Accidents

However, Michigan is one of about 15 states that have some form of no-fault system. The idea is that it is cheaper for the insurance system in the long run if each of us insures ourselves for medical and wage losses from an accident. That way, the idea goes, if you get into a collision, your insurance steps up and takes care of you right away, and the other person’s insurance does the same for him or her. No need to sue, or to worry about whether the other driver even had insurance in the first place. That is supposed to make the system easier to use, and therefore cheaper for all of us.

So if you are in a collision with another driver, the other person’s insurance is not responsible for your medical, wage loss, or a couple of other benefits that are provided by law (there are a few exceptions that apply to pedestrians and motorcyclists, and that apply to the amount of wage loss you suffer). Remember: you may have health insurance or disability plans through work that might play into this, too.

If you are still thinking that this sort of system sounds strange, you are right to be skeptical. The fact is that there are so many loopholes and interpretations to the no-fault system that even attorneys who do this kind of work for a living have to argue cases about it all the time!

But the general rule is: that your insurance pays your medical expenses and wage losses, and the other driver pays his or hers.

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.

Should You Give a Statement To The Other Driver’s Insurance Company?

We advise that you should NEVER do that without the prior advice of an attorney. Here’s why.

You are handing over a tremendous advantage to the other side when you talk to a trained interviewer about the facts of an accident, and about your injuries. Insurance companies for the other driver can contact you immediately after an accident and if you volunteer information to them before you understand what you might be getting into, you can do tremendous damage to your claim—even if you are “telling the truth.” That’s because a lot of the information they ask you about has nothing to do with facts such as who ran the light, what color the other car was, or what day of the week this happened.

Here’s what the other side really wants to get from you in an interview:

  1. Test out the strengths and weakness of your case—maybe it’s not clear who ran a stop sign, or whether you have any witnesses who can back you up. The other side wants to know right from the start if they can poke holes in your story—and you just might help them do it by talking to them!
  2. Size you up—how you come across has a big impact as to how your case will be evaluated by a jury, and certainly as to how an insurance company views you as a risk. If you don’t come across as believable, the value of your case drops fast. And people who are angry, hostile or confused (like you are after an accident you didn’t cause) don’t come across well. They are easy to manipulate and they may say things they would regret later.
  3. Get information from you that can hurt your case—a common mistake people make in statements and depositions is that they offer information that reflects badly upon them, even if it isn’t directly related to the case. For example, you may have a drunk driving conviction in your past, or child support arrearages. Or perhaps you hurt your neck while you were in the service, or in another accident years ago. All of these things will be turned into “negatives” to make you and your case look less worthy….you have to disclose these things at some point, but the time for that is not over the phone to your opponent.
  4. Get you to pin yourself down—you would be surprised how poorly most people judge time, distance and speed. If you give a statement about these factors, or about any matter that can be investigated, and you are wrong (or you tried to hide something), your statement will come back to haunt you. A jury doesn’t have to like you, but they have to believe you. Don’t say something now that blows up on you later.

You can see that we feel very strongly that an accident victim should NEVER give a statement to the other side in an injury incident that was not your fault. The way insurance companies tend to look at claimants is that they are “guilty until proven innocent.” Get legal advice before you give a statement to the other side.

Intentionally Caused Collision Damage

“If another driver crashes into me on purpose, and wrecks my car, can I sue for the damage?”

Yes, if you can prove that the other driver intended to crash into you. The keyword is “intended.” Ordinarily, you can’t collect more than the $1000 minitort maximum from the other driver to pay for your collision damage. But if you have proof, such as witnesses to a road-rage incident, that the other driver meant to slam into your car, you are eligible to sue for the full amount of your collision damage that is not covered by your insurance.

Please remember that you have to carry the minimum “PL/PD” coverage on your vehicle in Michigan. Otherwise, you are not eligible to make no-fault or collision damage claims yourself. It is not mandatory to carry collision coverage, although, if you have an auto lease or loan, the finance company or dealer may insist that you have it. If you don’t have collision coverage, you run the risk of absorbing the financial loss of damage to your vehicle.

For additional questions or to talk to a car accident lawyer in Michigan, contact us or call 1-866-22Not33 today.

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 vehicles 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 appears 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.

What To Do About Road Rage Auto Injury Claims

“I was driving my uninsured car. Another driver crashed into me on purpose, causing me injuries. Because I was uninsured, am I unable to seek money damages?”

Here’s a question that came up recently. The answer is that, in Michigan, you can sue the other driver for intentionally crashing into you and causing you injury, even if you were in your own uninsured vehicle.

Now, we always say that you should never drive, or even be in, your own uninsured vehicle on the road. The penalty for that is normally that you can’t get no-fault benefits for any medical or wage losses you might suffer in a crash. And you usually can’t sue the at-fault driver for pain and suffering, either. That is the penalty (aside from fines) that you face if you occupy your own uninsured vehicle and get in a crash.

However, one partial exception to this is in the situation described in this article. Suppose you are driving your car, another motorist gets upset with you, and in a fit of “road rage” deliberately crashes into you. As a result of the crash, you are injured. Here’s how that would work out:

  1. You CAN file a case against the other driver because he or she INTENDED to crash into you. Of course, you will have to prove that, but if you do, the law in Michigan is that you can claim pain and suffering damages against that driver, even if you didn’t have insurance on your vehicle;
  2. You CAN recover economic damages (for example, medical bills or lost wages) from the other driver if you can prove the other driver intended to crash into you;
  3. The other driver’s insurance will still have to cover at least the bodily injury portion of your claim, even if their policy says it does not cover intentional acts

This is not a recommendation that anyone should drive around without insurance, and you should do whatever you can to avoid getting into road rage situations. But looking at it the other way around, please remember that if you get into a road rage situation, and intentionally hurt another motorist or pedestrian, you are going to be fully financially responsible for any damages you cause. This will be on top of severe criminal penalties that you may face. You won’t have the protection of the law to help you.

What Can You Do After Getting Hit By Rental Car

“Can I sue the rental car company if I get hurt by the person driving the car?”

There are a surprising number of instances where someone driving a rental car or truck causes an accident that injures another driver. Years ago, the injured person could sue both the careless and the rental car company for pain and suffering (as compared to medical and wage loss damages, which in Michigan usually come from your own insurance, not the other driver’s policy).

That has changed. For cases after August 10, 2005, companies in the business of renting out vehicles are no longer responsible for the negligence of the person renting the vehicle. This so-called “Graves Amendment” means that you can still sue the driver for pain and suffering, but you can’t go after money for your injuries from the rental company that owns the car!

The exception to this is if you (more likely, your lawyer) can prove that the rental car company itself was negligent, such as by renting a car to a person with a suspended license, or to someone who was visibly intoxicated when they rented the vehicle.

Be careful if you get hurt by a rented vehicle. Your lawyer and you both need to know these changes in the law that could drastically affect the amount of compensation you might receive for your pain and suffering.

Conclusion: Auto Accidents in Michigan Guide

Those are some common questions we get as car accident lawyers in Michigan.  To speak with a personal injury attorney, contact us through our form or call 1-866-22Not33 today.  Matz Injury Law has served clients across the state of Michigan from Lansing to Houghton, Saginaw to Grand Rapids, and beyond.

Written By Steven Matz

Steven J. Matz is a founding shareholder of Matz Injury Law. The firm’s concentration is on personal injury litigation, with an emphasis on traumatic brain injury. Mr. Matz earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with high distinction and highest honors in 1974 from the University of Michigan and a Juris Doctor degree in 1977 from The George Washington University National Law Center. Mr. Matz lectures and publishes in a number of areas, including ethics, marketing, trial tactics, and head injury. Mr. Matz has served on the Michigan Association for Justice Executive Board and currently serves the Michigan Attorney Discipline Board as a Hearing Panel Chairman and Master. He is also a member of the State Bar Committee for Character and Fitness.
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