Why Winning Auto Cases in Michigan Is So Challenging
For personal injury lawyers helping people who have suffered injury in a car accident in Michigan, the law has become very challenging, leaving many car accident injury victims and lawyers bewildered and frustrated.
There are three main reasons why having a “good” Michigan car accident case is difficult today.
First Reason: Michigan is a No-Fault State
The first reason is that Michigan is a No-Fault state, where the Michigan Legislature forced a trade-off on car accident injury victims: In return for all victims being able to receive generous first-party No-Fault benefits from their own auto insurance company, victims who had suffered less serious injuries in car accidents would be barred from being able to recover money damages for pain and suffering in a lawsuit for personal injury. Only if victims can meet the “serious impairment of body function” threshold, which was enacted by the Michigan Legislature in 1995, are they allowed to sue for pain and suffering compensation – which is also known as “noneconomic loss” damage.
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 $1,000.00 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
- Excess economic loss after the first three years of No-Fault lost wages.
These recoveries are available only after the personal injury suffered by an automobile accident victim has been found to pass Michigan’s “threshold law.” The harshness of Michigan’s injury threshold law 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 limits pain and suffering compensation awards only to those victims who can show they have suffered “a serious impairment of body function” which is defined as “an objectively manifested impairment of an important body function that affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.” (MCL 500.3135(5))
Third Reason: Interpretation of the Serious Impairment law has not yet been preserved in a statute
In 2010, the Michigan Supreme Court decided McCormick v. Carrier, which restored the true meaning and original intent of the threshold law as expressed by the “serious impairment of body function” requirement.
In overruling the disastrous, judge-made law from the high court’s 2004 ruling in Kreiner v. Fischer, the McCormick court explained what the law actually requires car crash victims to show in order to collect pain and suffering compensation:
The “three prongs that are necessary to establish a ‘serious impairment of body function'” are “(1) an objectively manifested impairment (observable or perceivable from actual symptoms or conditions) (2) of an important body function (a body function of value, significance, or consequence to the injured person) that (3) affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life (influences some of the plaintiff’s capacity to live in his or her normal manner of living).”
Although the McCormick provided long-overdue justice to car accident victims, more could be done.
In order to truly protect victims, the Legislature needs to shield McCormick’s interpretations of the “serious impairment of body function” threshold from future judicial dismantlement – of the likes we suffered in Kreiner – by amending the threshold law statute to reflect the McCormick ruling.