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Why Winning Auto Cases Has Become So Challenging

For personal injury lawyers helping people who have suffered injury in a car accident in Michigan, the law today has become more challenging than ever before. This has left many car accident injury victims and lawyers bewildered and frustrated. There are three main reasons why having a “good” Michigan car accident case is more difficult today. The first reason is that Michigan is a no fault state, where the Michigan Legislature enacted a trade-off with car accident injury victims able to receive more generous first party no fault benefits by barring those who had suffered less serious injuries in car accidents from being able to recover money in a lawsuit for personal injury. This law was changed in 1995 when the legislature for the first time provided a statutory definition defining how serious the injury and impairment must be for people hurt in car accidents.

This statutory definition was then interpreted by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2004, and subsequently has been interpreted by an ever increasing body of cases that have continued to raise the bar for how serious injury from a car accident must be in Michigan in order to recover money damages for pain and suffering. This ever-increasing escalation is referred to by Michigan lawyers who handle car accident personal injury cases as “threshold creep.” The end result has been that cases that were never intended to be excluded by the Michigan Legislature when no fault was enacted in Michigan, including substantial injury cases involving fractures and in some cases surgeries with months off work due to pain and disability, have now been dismissed. The lesson for Michigan lawyers helping people who have suffered serous injury in car accidents is clear: the initial severity of the injury matters far less than the impairment that the injury has caused.

First Reason: Michigan is a No Fault State

The first reason is that Michigan is a “no fault” state. Michigan limits the tort liability of a negligent driver who has caused a car accident. By limiting tort liability of a person who has caused an automobile accident, Michigan law requires a person who has suffered personal injury caused by an automobile accident to turn to his or her own no fault insurance company, not to the insurance company of the person who caused the car accident.

In most states, a negligent driver is responsible in tort for all of the injuries and damages they cause. In Michigan, if the personal injuries that are suffered as a result of a car accident are not considered sufficiently serious, a negligent driver will not be responsible for any of the injuries or damages they cause, except for the first $500.00 of vehicle damage under the Michigan mini tort law. As a no fault state, the insurance company of the person who causes a car accident in Michigan is only responsible for:

  • Non-economic loss (pain and suffering),
  • Excess economic loss over the monthly statutory maximum, and
  • Economic loss after the first three years of no-fault lost wages.

This recovery is only after the personal injury suffered by an automobile accident victim has been found to pass Michigan’s “threshold law.” The increasing harshness with which Michigan’s injury threshold law is being interpreted has led to increasing specialization amongst Michigan attorneys who might normally have handled car accident cases in the past.

Second Reason: Michigan has legislated a “Threshold Test”

Michigan, in addition to being a no fault state, is also one of an even smaller number of states that has legislated a threshold test that a person injured in a car accident must first cross over before they can recover non-economic damages from any automobile accident. This injury law requires that any injury be objectively manifested, be to an important body function of the person injured, and affect that person’s ability to lead his or her normal life.

Third Reason: Interpretation of Law Still New for Serious Impairment

The third reason is that the law that defines what is necessary to have a successful automobile accident case is still new. In 2004, following a decision called Kreiner v. Fischer, the exact meaning of this law was interpreted for the first time by the Michigan Supreme Court. Kreiner was the first case to interpret the exact meaning of the definition of “serious impairment” after a car accident since the Michigan legislature defined for the first time what is necessary to suffer a serious impairment of body function to be able to recover damages following automobile accidents in Michigan. The new law was enacted in 1995, and took effect in Michigan on March 28, 1996.

After all of these changes, there remains a great deal of legal uncertainty for Michigan lawyers to know today what is necessary to have a “good” Michigan car accident personal injury case. There is no established and agreed upon body of case law to guide Michigan attorneys handling Michigan automobile accident cases today. This lack of an established body of case law has left many Michigan personal injury lawyers puzzled and confused by clearly conflicting appellate decisions interpreting the Michigan automobile negligence laws. This has proven challenging, to say the least, for many Michigan attorneys and judges.

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