If you have recently been in an auto accident you should contact the law firm of Ryan, Podein, Postema & Westgate, P.C., in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Our lawyers have experience representing clients who suffered injuries, sometimes catastrophic, in auto accidents. Catastrophic injuries can include, paralysis, brain damage, and burn damage. In addition, we have the expertise to handle wrongful death cases.
Our auto accident lawyers handle motor vehicle cases involving car accidents, trucking accidents and motorcycle accidents. Michigan has a no-fault insurance law. This means that if you are injured you recover economic damages from your own insurance policy. You have the ability to receive lost wages, property damage, and payment for medical bills. However, if you need to recover pain and suffering damages you may need to sue the person who caused your car accident. Caution: there are time limits that must be met or you could lose valuable rights. Contact our Grand Rapids auto accident attorneys now for a free consultation.
Some Examples of Auto Accidents:
- Death or Injury from Negligent or Drunk Drivers
- No Fault Insurance Claims (1st Party and 3rd Party)
- Highway Injuries
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Semi-Truck Accidents
- Pedestrian Accidents
- Catastrophic Injuries
- Liquor Liability
- Settlement Offers Reviewed
Michigan No Fault Insurance Law
Before the No Fault Act, a person injured in an automobile accident could sue the responsible driver. The injured person could recover all provable damages including lost wages, medical bills, damage to the car, damage to any of the contents of the car or other personal items, damage to real estate, and such damages as pain and suffering (called “non-economic” damages).
Thewas intended to reduce the number of lawsuits by giving the injured person a means of receiving compensation for injuries without having to sue. The idea was to reduce drawn-out lawsuits so that the injured person could receive compensation earlier and easier. It was believed that insurance rates might also go down. Under no fault, every driver is required to be covered by insurance. If a person is injured, he collects under his own policy, not from the other driver. Payment is made even though the injured person was the one who caused the accident. In other words, payment is made “without regard to fault.” The injured person does not have to go to court and prove the responsible driver was at fault.
In general, an injured person can recover the following no fault benefits:
- 85% of lost wages for up to three years
- Necessary medical bills
- Up to $5,000 in funeral expenses, depending upon your policy
- Up to $20 per day for three years to hire necessary help
- Collision damage to the car if collision coverage is bought when the policy is taken out. Collision coverage is optional
- Property damage
- No fault benefits do not include such things as pain and suffering.
The right to sue the driver at fault was reduced, but not totally eliminated. In fact, where the injured person has a serious injury, a lawsuit is the only way to recover pain and suffering. An injured person may sue only if his injuries are very severe. This will be discussed in more detail below. Someone who sues may recover the following damages from the person at fault:
- Pain and suffering
- All wage loss, medical expenses, property damage or other damage in excess of the limitations
- Collision damage to the injured person’s car is generally not paid by the driver at fault. A person’s own policy is supposed to cover damage to the car. If a person suffers damage to his car which is not protected by collision coverage, the person may sue the driver at fault in Small Claims Court for up to $500. This is the so-called “mini tort” provision.
A. Who Is Covered Under No Fault?
In general, if injuries are sustained in an accident involving a motor vehicle, no fault applies. The statute provides that a person is covered by no fault benefits if he sustains accidental injuries "arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle.” MCLA 500.3105
1. Accidental injury
An injury is “accidental” if it was not intended by the injured person even though the person should have known an injury could result from his actions. Frechen v DAIIE, 119 Mich App 578 (1982). An injury must result from a single event rather than repeated stress over a period of time. Compare: --- A heart attack from over-exertion while unloading a vehicle is covered. McKim v Home Insurance Co. 133 Mich App 694 (1984) versus --- A back injury caused by years of truck driving is not covered. Randles v Carriers Insurance Co, 139 Mich App 57 (1984).
2. Motor Vehicle
The definition of “motor vehicle,” MCLA 500.3101 (2) (e):
“Motor vehicle” means a vehicle, including a trailer, operated or designed for operation upon a public highway by power other than muscular power which has more than 2 wheels. Motor vehicle does not include a motorcycle or a moped. Motor Vehicle does not include a farm tractor or other implement of husbandry which is not subject to the registration requirements of the Michigan vehicle code.
* motorcycles and snowmobiles are not motor vehicles even if used on a public highway.
3. Use Of A Motor Vehicle As A Motor Vehicle
If a motor vehicle is designed for different purposes, and if the accident occurred while the vehicle was being used for one of the purposes, the accident is covered. For example:
- A cement truck unloading cement is an intended use. Bialochowski v Cross Concrete Plumbing Co. 428 Mich 219 (1987).
- Using a pickup truck with attached camper is an intended use. Kople v Michigan Mutual Insurance Co, 126 Mich App 483 (1983).
Who Is Excluded?
The No Fault Act excludes certain people from coverage: a car thief, an uninsured owner, a non-resident person in an out-of-state car unless a certificate of compliance is filed, and an employee injured while using a parked car covered by worker’s compensation.
II. Claims Against The No Fault Insurance Company
What Insurance Policy Applies
An injured person should first look to his own insurance policy. If not, he should look to the insurance policies in his own household.
1. Occupants of motor vehicles (drivers and passengers)
- An injured driver or passenger in a motor vehicle should seek no fault benefits in the following order:
- The person’s own insurance policy if there is one;
- The insurance policy of the person’s spouse or a relative of either of them living in the same household. If none, then
- The insurance policy of the owner of the vehicle; then
- The policy of the driver; then
- The assigned claims facility.
Persons such as pedestrians are not occupants of a motor vehicle. They may be entitled to no fault insurance benefits for their injuries under the following order of priority:
- The injured person’s own policy, if any;
- The insurance policy of the person’s spouse or a relative of either living in the same household. If none, then
- The insurance policy of the owners of the vehicles involved in the accident; if none, then
- The insurance policies of the drivers involved in the accident; if none, then
- The assigned claims facility.
Suing The Insurance Company To Get No Fault Benefits (Sometimes Called a "First Party" Suit)
Sometimes, the insurance company will deny no fault benefits. Usually, the company denies benefits because of questions over coverage (see above), computation of benefits, or late claims.
The No Fault Act specifically states that a lawsuit for benefits must be brought within one year of the date of the accident unless written notice of the injury was given to the insurance company or unless the insurance company previously made a payment for the injury. If written notice was given in a timely manner, the lawsuit can be brought any time within one year after the most recent expense was incurred. A person cannot recover benefits over a year old once the lawsuit is started.
III. Suing The Other Driver (Sometimes Called a "Third Party" Suit)
A. The Severe Injury Threshold
As mentioned above in the introduction, an injured person may only sue the other driver when his injuries are severe. This is called the no fault “threshold.” There are three types of injuries that would allow someone to sue:
- Permanent serious disfigurement; or
- Serious impairment of body function objectively manifested that affects their general ability to lead their normal lives.
In order to recover any damages from the responsible driver, the injured person not only has to show one of the above severe injuries, but the injured person is required to show that the driver was at fault. What does “fault” mean? As in many other types of personal injury actions, the injured person must show that the driver was negligent. The definition of negligence is the breach of a legal duty by doing something or failing to do something that an ordinary person would have done or not done under similar circumstance. Proving the other driver was at fault can be a difficult task.
C. The Statute of Limitations
The Statute of Limitations for bringing a third party suit is three years from the date of the accident.
IV. Insurance Priority in Motor Vehicle Related Accidents
According to Michigan No-Fault Law, certain guidelines must be followed if you seek medical treatment as a result of a motor vehicle accident. A motor vehicle is most commonly a car or truck but can be much more inclusive. In most cases, if you were a driver or passenger in a motor vehicle, or if you were not an occupant but were injured by a motor vehicle (such as a pedestrian, a bicyclist, etc). Michigan No-Fault Law requires you to seek no-fault coverage using the priority sequence for insurers set forth below, regardless of whose fault the accident was. Note, however, that there are different priority rules for those in employer-owned motor vehicles and for those on a motorcycle that was involved in a motor vehicle accident (e.g., collides with a car).
CAUTION: THIS IS ONLY A GENERAL GUIDELINE TO GET YOU STARTED. IT DOES NOT COVER ALL SITUATIONS AND IS NOT INTENDED AS LEGAL ADVICE. NO-FAULT CAN BE VERY COMPLEX. CONSULT OUR OFFICE ABOUT YOUR PARTICULAR SITUATION.
**NO-FAULT BENEFITS ARE NOT RECOVERABLE AFTER ONE YEAR.**
Priority #1: Individual's Own Insurer:
Your own personal no-fault automobile insurance company (e.g., the insurer of your car or truck). If you do not have your own no-fault insurance, then you must seek no-fault benefits according to priority #2.
Priority #2: Household Insurer:
The no-fault insurance company of any relative residing in the same household as you. If there is no automobile insurance with any resident relative, then you must seek no-fault benefits according to priority #3.
Priority #3: Insurer Of Motor Vehicle In The Accident:
The no-fault insurer of the motor vehicle that you were in when the accident happened, or, if you were not an occupant of a motor vehicle, then the insurer of the motor vehicle that was involved in the accident. If there is no insurance available at this priority level, then you must seek no-fault benefits according to priority #4.
Priority #4: Insurer Of Driver In The Accident:
The no-fault insurer of the driver of the motor vehicle that you were in or if you were not an occupant of a motor vehicle, then the insurer of the driver of the motor vehicle that was involved in the accident. If there is no insurance available this priority level, then you must seek no-fault benefits according to priority #5.
Priority #5: Assigned Claims Facility:
The Michigan Department of State, Lansing, MI 48918, (517) 322-1875. Assigned Claims will appoint an insurer of last resort.