Car Accident Lawsuits Against the At-Fault Driver
While no-fault PIP benefits provide some compensation if you are injured in a car accident, they will often be insufficient to fully compensate you for your injuries. Many times, pursuing a car accident lawsuit against the other driver who caused the accident is the only way you can be “made whole.”
The most important benefit of a car accident lawsuit is that it permits you to pursue damages which you otherwise would not be entitled to under your standard PIP benefits, including non-economic damages and damages for excess economic loss. However, in order to bring a claim for these additional damages in Michigan, there are strict requirements that must first be met.
Who can bring a Car Accident Lawsuit?
The first requirement for bringing a car accident lawsuit in Michigan is that you must be able to demonstrate that the other driver was at fault for causing the accident. The legal term for fault is negligence, which is nothing more than the failure to act as a reasonably careful person would act under the same or similar circumstances. Typically, violations of the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code – such as speeding, failing to stop at a stop sign, failing to yield, running a red light, improper lane usage, etc. – are all evidence of negligence.
Furthermore, even if you were partially at fault in causing the accident, you may still recover damages for your injuries. However, the amount of those damages will be reduced by the percentage of your own fault. This is referred to as comparative fault.
There are also additional requirements under the Michigan No-Fault Act if you are seeking compensation for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering. In addition to proving that the driver of the other vehicle was negligent, Michigan law also requires you to show that your injuries are “serious enough” in order to bring an action to recover non-economic damages. This is what is commonly known as a ‘threshold injury.’
Who Pays Damages for Car Accident Lawsuits?
Auto tort claims are primarily paid by the negligent driver’s insurance company. If a lawsuit is required to obtain that compensation, you must name the negligent driver individually in the lawsuit. However, the damages will actually be paid by their insurance carrier up to the total amount of liability coverage that the driver purchased. In the event that you have suffered damages that exceed the total amount of liability coverage carried by the at fault driver, the negligent driver may be personally responsible for the excess amounts.
In this video, Lansing auto accident lawyer Stephen Sinas, who serves as associate general counsel for the Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault (CPAN), explains the differences between Michigan’s no-fault insurance system and a tort liability system.
What if the At-Fault Driver Was Not Insured?
One problem that may arise is if the driver who caused the accident was either uninsured or underinsured. “Uninsured” means that the driver did not carry any insurance at the time of the accident, while “underinsured” means the driver had insurance, but did not carry enough insurance to meet the full amount of your damages. Since most individuals do not personally have the sufficient funds to fully compensate a car accident victim for their injuries, the lack of adequate insurance coverage can potentially leave an injured party without any way of recovering their damages.
This can be avoided by purchasing optional uninsured and/or underinsured motorist coverage, which permits you to recover these damages from your own insurance company. While this coverage is optional, it is highly recommended that you purchase uninsured/underinsured coverage in order to protect yourself against the prospect of being injured by a driver who does not have sufficient insurance coverage to compensate you for your injuries.
Learn more about uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage in Michigan.