Auto Injuries and You: Your Rights if You’re Involved in an Auto Accident
This article is not intended to provide legal advice. It is intended as an overview of the rights of injured persons under the Michigan No-Fault Act. This booklet must, by its nature, generalize and over simplify complex legal issues. If you have any questions about an auto accident injury problem, call a lawyer who specializes in personal injury law. Most personal injury lawyers do not charge a fee for initial consultations. The writer of this pamphlet is happy to answer any questions you may have about these types of problems.
WHAT TYPES OF INSURANCE SHOULD I BUY?
The Michigan No Fault Act requires all owners and registrants of motor vehicles to maintain certain types of insurance coverage. Failure to maintain these mandatory coverages is a misdemeanor. The required include personal injury protection benefits (PIP), property damage, and liability coverage for injuries to other persons.
Personal Injury Protection (PIP) and Property Damage
PIP benefits include medical expenses, wage loss, and replacement services for you, your spouse, or any relative living in your household who is injured in an auto accident. If you have other health insurance, you may obtain “coordinated” medical coverage. This means that your other health insurance is primarily responsible for paying your bills, with your auto insurance company picking up the deductibles or expenses not covered by your other insurance.
With coordinated coverage, your insurer requires you to first submit the claim to the health insurer and obtain a formal response. This is often true even if it would appear clear that the medical expense or procedure is not covered. Coordinated policies require good record keeping policies. Many consumers find that the small savings of coordinated policies are greatly offset by the additional trouble and delay in receiving benefits.
PIP benefits are payable regardless of whether or not you were at fault in the accident.Your PIP coverage may include a deductible amount up to $300.00. However, if you do not carry insurance on your car and are injured, you may not claim benefits from any insurance company.
Property coverage includes damage to other people’s property, but does not include collision damages to motor vehicles.
The No Fault Act requires all owners of motor vehicles to purchase a certain minimum amount of liability insurance. Liability coverage is money that your insurance company would pay to another person who is injured or killed because of your fault in the accident. At the present time, the minimum amount required is $20,000.00 per person, and a total of $40,000.00 per accident. Is this minimum enough?
First of all, you must understand that these amounts cover not only other persons in other cars you are involved with, but also any passengers in your own car. Furthermore, you should start from the premise that anyone, no matter how careful, can make a mistake. A single moment of inattentiveness can result in death or permanent disability to your own passengers or to other drivers or passengers of other vehicles. You should protect your personal assets by carrying sufficient liability insurance to fairly compensate someone who is injured or even killed as a result of your negligence. Liability insurance is relatively inexpensive and we recommend you carry many times more than the minimum amounts.
Under the No Fault Act, damage to your vehicle is your own responsibility, regardless of who is at fault in the accident. Collision insurance is not required to be carried by you under the No Fault Act.
However, if you choose not to carry collision coverage, you are taking the risk that you may have your car totaled in an accident and not be able to recover the value of the car from anyone. For a limited exception to this rule, see “What about damage to my car?”.
Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Coverage
If you are injured by someone who does not have any insurance, you may not have any source of recovery for your damages. Most insurance companies sell coverage that provides for payment by your own auto insurance company as if the uninsured motorist had liability insurance coverage. This is called uninsured motorist coverage.
You may also purchase an underinsured policy that provides for increased liability coverage if the person who causes your injuries has only the minimum liability coverage and your damages exceed those limits.
Because this coverage is relatively inexpensive and it directly protects you and your resident relatives, we recommend you obtain it and make sure it has $100,000/500,000 or even greater limits.
STOPPING AND REPORTING AN ACCIDENT
If you are involved in an accident which results in possible injury or damage, you must stop at the scene. You must give your name, address, license plate number and show your driver’s license to the other driver or drivers. If anyone is injured, you must take reasonable steps to call an ambulance, if necessary. If there is any injury to property damage more than $200.00, you must report the accident to the police. If you believe that a police investigation is required, you should call the local police. Sometimes injuries may not be immediately apparent. Even if it appears that no one is injured, the safest course to document another driver’s negligence is to request the police to come to the scene and prepare a report.
The police department must keep a copy of the accident report for at least 3 years after the accident. It is a public record that you may obtain upon request by paying a nominal charge.
If you are injured as a result of a motor vehicle accident, you are entitled to receive personal injury protection (PIP) benefits for medical expenses, wage loss, and replacement services. The injured person claims PIP benefits from an insurance company in the following order of priority:
- Your own auto insurance company, regardless of whether you were in your own car.
- The auto insurance coverage of your spouse or other relative living in your home.
- The owner of the car in which you were riding.
- The driver of the car in which you were riding.
- The owner or driver of any other car involved in the accident.
- The owner or driver of any motorcycle involved in the accident.
- If none of the above apply, and you were not driving the car at the time of the accident, then you should apply to the State of Michigan, which will assign your claim for PIP benefits to an insurance company.
Different rules apply to accidents where you were a passenger on a bus, taxi, or if you were injured in the course of your employment. If you were driving your car while uninsured, you may not claim PIP benefits from anyone.
All reasonable and necessary medical expenses related to the injuries received in an accident must be paid by your PIP insurance company, subject only to the deductible, if any. If your doctor related the need for services to the accident, the insurance company should continue to pay those expenses as long as they are required, as long as you live.
Covered medical expenses include ambulance charges, emergency care, hospital bills, office visits, x rays and other tests, physical therapy, physical and vocational rehabilitation, prescriptions and mileage to and from any of the providers of these services.
You should keep a record of the date and destination of each trip for medical treatment, the total number of miles traveled, and keep copies of any prescriptions or other bills that you pay out of your own pocket. A copy of these bills and a log of your mileage should be sent to the insurance company each month.
Wage Loss and Replacement Services
If you are disabled from work as a result of an accident, your PIP insurance company must pay 85% of your gross wage, subject to a statutory maximum which is revised each year. If you are temporarily unemployed at the time of the accident, you still may be entitled to wage loss benefits based on the wages of your last job. If your employer replaces you and does not re hire you when you are able to return to work, the wage loss must be paid while you look for other work.
If you are disabled from performing your normal responsibilities in the household, you may be entitled to “replacement services.” Up to $20.00 per day may be paid to someone who cares for your children, performs household chores, cooks, shovels the snow, mows the lawn, etc. The amounts may be paid to anyone you hire to perform the services for you, including your spouse or a relative.
You should keep a notebook in which you record the date, job performed, name of the person, and the amount of time spent. These expenses should be sent to the insurance company each month.
Wage loss benefits and replacement services are payable up to three years after the accident. Reasonable and necessary medical benefits may be payable for life, as long as your doctor relates the treatment or service to the accident.
Wage loss, replacement services, and medical expenses should be paid within 30 days after reasonable proof is supplied to the insurance company.
WHAT ABOUT DAMAGE TO MY CAR?
The No Fault Act does not require you to maintain collision coverage on your car. Each owner is responsible for the repair or replacement of their car caused by a motor vehicle accident. If you choose not to carry collision insurance, in most cases you must repair or replace your car at your own expense, REGARDLESS OF WHO IS AT FAULT. However, if the other driver was uninsured, you may sue for all collision damages.
There is a limited exception to this rule. If you can prove that the other driver was more than 50% at fault, you may sue the other driver or owner of the vehicle at fault for the amount not covered by insurance, up to a maximum of $1,000.00. You can file this suit without a lawyer in the small claims division of the local District Court where the accident occurred.
You may also sue the other driver for collision damages if your car was legally parked when it was damaged. However, if your insurance company paid for the repair, the insurance company will have the right to sue to recover those damages.
UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES CAN I SUE FOR INJURIES SUFFERED IN A MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT?
The major purpose of the No Fault Act was to restrict the right of injured persons to sue over auto accidents. The Act limits the right to sue other persons except where death or serious injury occurs. The Act provides that lawsuits over injuries received in motor vehicle accidents can only be brought when there is either death, permanent serious disfigurement, or serious impairment of a body function. These are called the “threshold” injuries.
If the driver of a vehicle at fault did not carry mandatory liability insurance, he or she can be sued without regard to the limitations referred to above. However, most drivers who do not carry liability insurance are unlikely to have sufficient assets or income to satisfy any judgment against them. That is why we recommend you carry uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.
Disfigurement, which includes scars and loss of body parts, must be serious and permanent.
A judge must first decide if a case presents a “threshold injury”. What is “serious”, permanent disfigurement or serious impairment of a body function is a major issue is almost all cases. Anyone who is injured in an auto accident should consult an attorney to determine whether their injuries meet the threshold requirements to sue.
If the injuries or disfigurement are “serious” the injured person may recover all damages which are not covered by the PIP benefits. In other words, you may sue for compensation for wage loss replacement services which continue beyond, 3 years, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, mental suffering, and other non economic damages. An injured person’s spouse may also recover damages for the damage to the marital relationship known as “consortium”. In death cases, the estate may recover economic damages such as future wage loss, as well as non economic damages for the loss of society and companionship.
WHO ELSE MAY BE RESPONSIBLE FOR MY INJURIES?
As a general rule, the driver and owner of the vehicle at fault may be sued for damages. If the driver was drunk, and had been served alcoholic beverages at a time when he or she was visibly intoxicated, you may sue the bar that served the drinks. This is called a “Dram Shop” action, and it is important to note that the right to sue for a Dram Shop claim expires only 2 years after the accident. You cannot pursue a Dram Shop claim if you have already settled with the drunk driver or his or her insurance company.
If the design or condition of the road, lighting, signs or traffic lights contributed to or caused the accident, the governmental agency which designed or maintained the hazard may be liable for damages. If this is the case, you must notify the governmental agency immediately after the accident.
If any car involved in the accident was improperly or defectively designed, manufactured or maintained, the person or corporation responsible for the defect or improper maintenance may also be sued.
DEADLINES TO REMEMBER
Defective road conditions: Notify governmental agency within 60 days of date of accident. Suit must be filed within 2 years.
First Party claim:
- For PIP benefits: 1 year
- Third Party claims against drivers or other parties at fault: 3 years
- Death Claims: 3 years
- Dram Shop action: 2 years
CHECKLIST IF YOU HAVE BEEN INVOLVED IN AN AUTO ACCIDENT:
- Notify the police immediately.
- Notify your own automobile insurance company, in writing, as soon as possible.
- If the injuries are serious, contact a lawyer right away. I’m always available for free