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Non-Economic Damages Under the No-Fault Insurance Law

Lawyer Commentary on No-Fault Statute: MCL 500.3135

Tort liability; abolition; exemption; mini-tort

The most important and highly litigated no-fault statute, this law defines the injury threshold that car accident victims must suffer to bring a lawsuit under Michigan law, and what types of compensation can be asked for as a result of a car accident.

Michigan is a no-fault state, so there are significant limitations on what types of damages and compensation a person who has caused a car accident (the wrongdoer or negligent driver) can be sued for. For instance, a person who has been seriously injured in a car or truck accident is entitled only to damages for her pain and suffering and for any “excess” economic loss after the first three years of no-fault wage loss and replacement services.

This law also defines how seriously an injured person must be hurt from a car accident to be able to hire a lawyer and bring a lawsuit for personal injury. The lawsuit following a car accident is often referred to as a third-party auto negligence lawsuit or a tort lawsuit by Michigan lawyers. However, these lawsuits can only be filed if the injuries suffered from a car accident are deemed sufficiently serious, and in Michigan, there is a law that defines how serious these injuries must be before a lawyer can be hired and a lawsuit can be filed.

Michigan’s Car Accident Law

In 1995, the Michigan Legislature defined how hurt a person injured in a car accident must be to be able to recover money damages for his or her pain and suffering. This is referred to as Michigan’s tort threshold law. It is a test that an injured person must pass to be able to show that he or she has suffered a “serious impairment of body function” This tort threshold only applies to people injured in car accidents. Michigan’s auto accident threshold law requires that someone injured in a car accident must first suffer a serious impairment to be able to sue for personal injuries from a car accident. Serious impairment is defined as “an objectively manifested impairment of an important body function that affects that person’s ability to lead his or her normal life.”

Kreiner v. Fischer

This legislative definition of serious impairment of body function was then later interpreted by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2004, in a car accident injury case called Kreiner v. Fischer. Kreiner has subsequently been interpreted by an increasing body of appellate cases that have continued to raise the threshold bar for how serious a personal injury from a car accident must be in order to recover money damages for pain and suffering.

This “tort threshold” is crossed when someone who has been injured in an auto accident is able to demonstrate a “serious impairment of body function” due to injuries he or she has received from the crash. The statutory definition of an “objectively manifested impairment of an important body function that affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life” can be easier to understand when thought of as three separate tests instead of just one threshold test, as it requires that three separate and distinct elements be met:

  • An injury or impairment must be “objectively manifested.”
  • The objectively manifested impairment must be to an “important body function.”
  • The objectively manifested impairment of the important body function must affect the injured person’s “general ability to lead his or her normal life.”

Most personal injury cases fail on the third prong of Michigan’s serious impairment test. Strategies and tactics to meet this third prong are extensively discussed in the Michigan Lawyers section of this web site. See 13 Ways to Prove Serious Impairment and 10 Lessons for Michigan Auto Accident Attorneys.

Exceptions to “Serious Impairment” Requirement

There are two important exceptions to this statutory serious impairment requirement. The first is if there is a “closed-head injury.” The second is if the person has suffered a “permanent serious disfigurement,” or scarring, from the car accident. If either exception is met, then the trial court cannot dismiss the auto negligence case even if it otherwise would fail to meet the serious impairment threshold.

There are other limitations to filing a third-party auto negligence lawsuit. For example, a lawsuit cannot be filed if at the time of a car accident the injured person did not meet the requirements of MCL 500.3101. Meaning, someone cannot file a lawsuit if she is uninsured at the time of the auto accident, no matter how catastrophic or severe the injuries or how negligent the driver who caused those injuries is.

Michigan Mini-Tort

Michigan law also provides the right to receive up to $500 under what is called a “mini-tort” for damage to a car or truck from an accident, if it is not covered by your insurance. However, if the person claiming the mini-tort is determined to be more than 50 percent at-fault in causing the car accident, the right to bring a mini-tort claim is lost.

Keep in mind, there is no mini-tort for motorcycle damage under Michigan law.

No-Fault Insurance Lawyers of Michigan Auto Law

The lawyers of Michigan Auto Law have been specializing in auto no-fault litigation for more than 50 years. If you have been injured in a car accident, truck accident or motorcycle accident and are having trouble with your no-fault insurance company, please call one of our expert attorneys for a free case evaluation at (800) 777-0028 or fill out our consultation form. There is no fee or obligation.

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