Car Accident Lawsuits Against The At-Fault Driver
Although 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 allows you to pursue two types of damages for your injuries, which you otherwise would not be entitled to under your own no-fault PIP benefits:
- non-economic damages — includes pain and suffering and other quality of life losses.
- excess economic loss damages — includes certain out-of-pocket expenses not paid by PIP benefits.
But in order to bring a claim for these additional damages in Michigan, it’s important to remember that strict requirements must first be met.
Who Can Bring A Car Accident Lawsuit?
The first requirement for bringing a car accident suit 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 simply the failure of a person to act as a reasonably careful person would 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.
Meanwhile, even if you were partially responsible for the car accident, you may still recover damages in a lawsuit 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. For example, if the injured person is 20% responsible for the accident and the at-fault driver is 80% responsible, the victim’s liability damages will be reduced by 20%. However, if the victim is more than 50% negligent in causing the accident, the law says the victim cannot recover any compensation for non-economic loss.
When seeking non-economic damages, in addition to showing that the other driver was negligent, Michigan law also requires you to demonstrate that your injuries are “serious enough” to bring a claim for non-economic damages. This “serious enough” component is commonly known as a “threshold injury,” and is defined as a “serious impairment of body function,” “permanent serious disfigurement” or death. (Note: claims for excess economic loss do not require proof of a threshold injury.)
What Happens When Car Accident Injuries Result In Death?
When a person dies as a result of a motor vehicle collision, a special kind of tort liability arises known as a “wrongful death claim.” Wrongful death claims in Michigan are pursued by the decedent’s estate on behalf of family members.
Wrongful death lawsuit are governed by the Michigan Wrongful Death Act. In general, this act provides that close relatives of a deceased victim can seek compensation for the loss of financial support, loss of services, and perhaps most importantly, loss of the love, affection, companionship and society of their loved one.
Who Pays Damages For Car Accident Lawsuits?
Liability claims are primarily paid by the insurance company for the at-fault driver. If a lawsuit is filed to obtain compensation, the negligent driver must be individually named in the suit. The damages, however, will actually be paid by the driver’s insurance company up to the total amount of liability coverage that the negligent driver purchased. If you suffered damages that exceed the amount of liability coverage that’s carried by the at-fault driver, the driver may be personally responsible for the excess amount.
What If The At-Fault Driver Was Not Insured Or Didn’t Have Enough Insurance?
Issues can arise if the driver who caused the accident was either 1) uninsured or 2) underinsured.
“Uninsured” means the at-fault driver carried no insurance at the time of the accident. “Underinsured” means the driver had insurance, but did not carry enough to meet the full amount of the accident victim’s damages.
Because most people do not personally have the funds to fully compensate a car crash victim, inadequate insurance coverage can potentially leave an injured person without any way of fully recovering their damages. However, this problem can be avoided by purchasing “uninsured motorist coverage” and “underinsured motorist coverage.” Both types of coverage let auto accident victims recover damages from their own insurance company when the at-fault driver doesn’t have any insurance or has insufficient insurance.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist policies are optional and are purchased in addition to standard no-fault insurance. Because the cost of each is relatively minimal, it is highly recommended that motorists purchase both types of optional coverages to protect themselves from drivers who do not have insurance or have minimal insurance.
Learn more about uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage in Michigan.