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MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENTS AND NO-FAULT INSURANCE

Most motor vehicle accidents in Michigan are governed by the Michigan No-Fault Insurance Act. In that system, every car that is licensed in Michigan is required to have insurance coverage with at least three types of coverage; personal injury protection, property protection and liability coverage.  A person may also choose to have additional types of coverage, such as collision coverage. The focus here will be on the types of damages that most commonly lead to disputes and lawsuits. There are two types of lawsuits that you might bring under the No-Fault insurance system.

First Party Cases

First party cases are those that you bring against your own insurance company for the company’s failure to
live up to the obligations under the insurance policy. When you have been in a motor vehicle accident, it is
your insurance company’s obligation to pay for many of the damages you might suffer, regardless of who
was at fault in the accident.

The most significant type of damage that your insurance company must pay is for your personal injury
protection (PIP). PIP benefits include:

  • All of your medical costs
  • If you are unable to work, 85% of the income you would have earned if you had not been hurt, for up to three years (with some limitations)
  • $20 per day in replacement services. This is to pay for services which injured persons are no longer able to provide for themselves or their families, such as housekeeping and yard workIf your insurance company does not pay you benefits that you believe that it is required to pay (which, unfortunately, is not uncommon), then you bring the Afirst party action against it. Be advised, however, that any such suit must be brought within one year of the denial of the benefit or your right to contest the insurance company’s denial is waived. Therefore, if your insurance company is denying payments of any sort, you should get an experienced attorney involved right away.

Third Party Cases

Third party cases are against the other driver in the accident. These can only be brought if the other driver
was negligent. Under Michigan’s No-Fault law, the circumstances in which you can bring these are limited.
There are two that are the most notable:

  • Wage loss that exceeds three years (you will recall that the first three years are covered by your own insurance)
  • Non-economic Losses to the extent that your injuries are sufficiently severe to meet the threshold for recovery. “Non-economic losses” are losses that are not capable out of pocket losses and are not subject to exact mathematical calculation. Typical examples are the pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental
    anguish that the injured person might suffer due to the injuries in the accident. The threshold that an injured party must meet to seek such damages from the negligent party is that he or she has:

    • suffered a serious impairment of body function, OR
    • has suffered a permanent serious disfigurement, OR
    • has died.

The most typical dispute in this regard is whether the victim has suffered a “serious impairment of body function.”  This has further been defined by the Legislature to mean “an objectively manifested impairment of an important body function that affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.” This vague
language is the subject of regular argument in the courts, particularly the issue of whether it impacts the “person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.”  If you meet the factual criteria for filing a third-party action, such an action generally must be brought within three years of the accident, although there are some exceptions. Nevertheless, if you have been injured by a negligent driver, you should consider involving a lawyer right away. Your rights, and the strength of your case, could be compromised if things are not done right from the beginning.

Representation by a Lawyer and Payment for Services

I believe that the highly-restrictive interpretation of the law by the majority of the existing Michigan Supreme
Court has made it difficult for parties to collect for injuries received in a motor vehicle accident. Therefore,
to give yourself the best chance for a fair recovery, it is critical that you have highly competent legal counsel
to assist you. Please call me for a free consultation so that I may evaluate your case. I would be happy to
talk to you about putting my 20 years of exceptional service to work for you.I have handled dozens of motor vehicle accident cases under the Michigan No-Fault law. Nearly all such cases are taken on a contingent fee basis. That means that my fee is based on results. If I settle the case, or collect on a jury award, I am paid a percentage of that recovery. The standard percentage arrangement is one-third of the net recovery. If there is no recovery, then I get no fee. But you would still be responsible for any out of pocket costs incurred.

 

TEN THINGS YOU SHOULD DO IF YOU ARE INVOLVED IN A MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT

1.    If anyone needs medical help, call 911 immediately.

2.    Do not discuss how the accident occurred until the police arrive. While waiting for the police officer get necessary information from the other drivers and witnesses. Phone numbers, addresses, and insurance information are crucial. Don’t assume the police officer will get them, or get them accurately.

3.    Never admit that the accident was your fault. You may be placing blame on yourself unnecessarily. Often people will say something out of regret, without knowing all the circumstances.

4.    Get a physical exam within a day or two of the accident, if not immediately after the accident. Even if you feel that your injuries are slight, you should see a doctor soon. Frequently, a person does not feel pain
immediately after an accident, but after several days, or even weeks, pain may appear. A doctor will be able to document your injuries and help you get the treatment that you need to heal.

5.    Protect evidence. Take photos of the scene to show any skid marks, road conditions, and traffic signs. Take photographs of the car before it is fixed. Take photographs of any injuries you have before they fade. Photographs can be valuable to your case. Failure to take the pictures may mean that the evidence is lost forever.

6.    Be careful when talking to insurance adjusters, or better yet, don’t even talk to them at all. No matter how “friendly” they may appear, they are not your friend. They are not working for you, and their job is to try to keep their payment to you as low as possible. Sometimes an adjuster will record your telephone conversations. This is for their protection, not yours. People can make misstatements when speaking to adjusters, which can significantly lower the value of their claim.

7.    Get a competent attorney involved soon after the accident. While the case may not be ripe for settlement right away, early involvement of a competent lawyer can only benefit you as the case develops.

8.    Be aggressive in resolving your health issues. The most important thing is that you get well. Many people will not take action on the hopes that the pain will go away on its own, or because they don’t want to be seen as a whiner. That is fine, but only to a point. You must be the one who takes the bull by the horns and take responsibility for your health. If you do not get satisfaction from one physician, ask for a referral to a specialist or get a second opinion. No one will care more about your health than you do. A secondary benefit of taking charge of your health is that it can help in litigation. One of the most common tactics of insurance companies is to point to the few visits that person had to physicians, and then claim that you could not have been significantly hurt if you only saw the doctor sporadically. Infrequent visits may also weigh on whether a court believes that you meet the no-fault threshold for non-economic damages. The bottom line is that you should not go to the doctor merely to go to the doctor. On the other hand, you should make sure that you do go to the doctor as much as your health demands.

9.    Reveal everything to the professionals helping you. Tell the doctor everything that is causing any problem, even if it is minor. Sometimes major problems fade away, and minor problems get worse. Make sure that any problem you have is being evaluated. Also, tell your attorney everything that you can about the accident, your injuries, and your prior health history, even if you feel that it may hurt your case. It is always better to tell the people assisting you of all pertinent facts so that they can properly advise you.

10.    Do not be in a hurry to settle for your injuries. It can take months, and even longer, to know the full extent of your injuries. Once the matter is settled, you will not be able to recover for additional related injuries that are discovered later. By being patient, you allow the elevated emotions of the accident to pass, and you have a better chance to look at the situation more realistically. Being patient will also allow your health care provider to fully document and treat your injuries and ensure that you will be in the best position for a fair recovery.


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