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Top 5 facts about Michigan’s ‘comparative fault’ law for auto accident victims

July 18, 2012 by Steven M. Gursten

How the ‘comparative fault’ law works and when it applies

Michigan auto accident victims and many of our clients, as well as lawyers from out of state, frequently ask us questions about Michigan’s “comparative fault” law and how it applies to auto accident cases.

They want to know what “comparative fault” is, why it matters and whether it applies to their cases or claims.

What they are really asking is : Is the comparative fault law going to reduce the amount of damages I’m entitled to recover as a result of my auto accident-related injuries?

I’ve put together the answers to 5 common questions here below. Whether it’s related to a mini tort claim or an auto accident, these are the things that you should know about Michigan’s “comparative fault” law.

1. “Comparative fault” is …

“Comparative fault” is a legal concept used by courts, juries and judges for determining how much, if at all, an auto accident victim may have been “comparatively” “at fault” in causing his or her accident.

For example, if there is a Michigan auto accident involving two cars and two drivers, it may be determined that the primary “at fault” driver was 70 percent at fault, but the auto accident victim’s comparative fault was 30 percent.

Here’s how “comparative fault” is explained to Michigan jurors in an auto accident trial:

“If you find that each party was negligent and the negligence of each party was a proximate cause of the plaintiff’s [injuries and/or damages], then you must determine the degree of such negligence, expressed as a percentage, attributable to the plaintiff.” (M Civ JI 16.02 and 16.05)

2. “Comparative fault” is important because …

“Comparative fault” is extremely important because, if an auto accident victim is “comparatively” “at fault” for causing an accident, then the victim’s damages will be reduced by the amount of his or her comparative fault.

And, if a victim’s comparative fault is more than 50 percent, then he or she will be completely prohibited from recovering any damages.

Here is what the “comparative fault” law says:

“Damages shall be assessed on the basis of comparative fault, except that damages shall not be assessed in favor of a party who is more than 50% at fault.” (MCL 500.3135(2)(b) and (4)(a))

And, here is how Michigan jurors are told to apply the “comparative fault” law in an auto accident trial:

“Negligence on the part of the plaintiff does not bar recovery by the plaintiff against the defendant.

* * *

However, the percentage of negligence attributable to the plaintiff will be used by the Court to reduce the amount of damages which you find to have been sustained by the plaintiff.

* * *

The total amount of damages that the plaintiff would otherwise be entitled to recover shall be reduced by the percentage of plaintiff’s negligence that contributed as a proximate cause to [the plaintiff’s injury].

* * *

The plaintiff, however, is not entitled to noneconomic damages if [the plaintiff] is more than 50 percent at fault for [the plaintiff’s] injury.” (M Civ JI 11.01, 16.02 and 16.05)

* * *

3. “Comparative fault” applies to …

The “comparative fault” law applies to claims for pain and suffering compensation, which are also known as “noneconomic loss” damages. (MCL 500.3135(2)(b))

4. “Comparative fault” also applies to …

The “comparative fault” law applies to claims for recovery of vehicle damage repair costs under the Michigan Mini Tort law. (MCL 500.3135(4)(a))

5. “Comparative fault” does not apply to …

The “comparative fault” law does not apply to claims for Michigan No-Fault benefits because, under Michigan’s No-Fault Law, “fault” is not precondition to collecting benefits that are reasonably necessary to a victim’s care, recovery or rehabilitation.

Under Michigan’s No-Fault Law, benefits such as payment of medical expenses, wage loss or replacement or attendant care services are available to an auto accident victim “without regard to fault.” (MCL 500.3105(2))

– Steve Gursten is head of Michigan Auto Law. He is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past co-chair of the Michigan Association for Justice Automobile Accident No-Fault Committee. He frequently writes and speaks about Michigan No-Fault laws, and is available for comment.

Michigan Auto Law is the largest law firm exclusively handling car accident, truck accident and motorcycle accident cases throughout the entire state. We have offices in Farmington Hills, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Sterling Heights. Call (800) 777-0028 to speak with one of our lawyers.

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