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Car Accident While On Active Duty, Now What?

November 30, 2020 by Steven M. Gursten

Car Accident While On Active Duty, Now What?

If you have been injured in a car accident while on active duty in Michigan, you may be legally entitled to No-Fault benefits to pay for medical expenses and lost wages. Wage loss can include military compensation economic losses including base pay, special pay, non-taxable allowances, and retired pay. You may also be able to sue to recover pain and suffering compensation for your injuries.

Active duty is defined as working full time for the U.S. military, meaning that you may live on a military base and you could be deployed at any time.

No-Fault benefits for a car accident while on active duty

If you are a resident of Michigan and injured in a car accident while on active duty, you will be entitled to collect No-Fault benefits. These auto No-Fault benefits will pay for your motor vehicle accident-related medical expenses and lost wages if your injuries disable you from working.

Can you choose your own doctor if you are in a car accident while on active duty in Michigan?

Even if you have health benefits through the military, you have the right under Michigan’s auto No-Fault insurance law to choose your own doctor if you get in a car accident while on active duty. You are not required or obligated to seek medical care and treatment from a military doctor or hospital just because it is also available.

In its ruling in Morgan v. Citizens Insurance, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a crash victim who was “on military service when the accident occurred” had a right to “a choice of medical providers” because the No-Fault law “preserves to injured persons a reasonable choice of hospitals and physicians.” As a result, the Morgan court concluded, the auto insurance company for the crash victim who had been “on military service” had to pay for his No-Fault medical benefits to cover his crash-related care at a nonmilitary hospital even though he “could have obtained the medical service without charge at a military hospital.” The “set-off” provisions of MCL 500.3109(1) did not apply.

Does TRICARE cover auto accident injuries?

TRICARE does cover auto accident injuries in Michigan if: (1) you coordinated your No-Fault medical coverage with your TRICARE coverage; or (2) you selected the $250,000 coverage level with the qualified health coverage exclusion.

Coordinated coverage is where, in return for a reduced insurance premium, a driver opts to have his or her health coverage pay first – before No-Fault – for medical expenses after an automobile crash.

Significantly, in Owens v. Auto Club Insurance Association, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the auto insurance company for a car accident victim who was on active duty at the time of the crash was not primary where the victim had purchased a policy that coordinated his No-Fault medical coverage “with other health coverage provided by United States military forces or the Veterans Administration.”

The justices in Owens added that MCL 500.3109a of the No-Fault law “requires that an insured, who chooses to coordinate no-fault coverage with health care coverage provided by the military forces or the Veterans Administration, [must first seek to] obtain payment and services from such a health care provider to the extent” the health coverage is available.

When a driver chooses the $250,000 coverage level exclusion, the driver is agreeing to be excluded from all No-Fault medical coverage in return for a 100% reduction in the No-Fault portion of his or her auto insurance premium. (MCL 500.3109a(2))

TRICARE is insurance that provides health care coverage through the U.S. Defense Health Agency to military families and their dependents.

Because TRICARE “does not exclude coverage for motor vehicle accidents and all TRICARE policies have a deductible of less than $6,000 per individual,” Michigan’s Insurance Commissioner in Bulletin 2020-39-INS stated that TRICARE qualifies as “qualified health coverage” under the auto No-Fault insurance law.

Lost wages after a car accident while on active duty

If you have suffered injuries in a car accident while on active duty that have disabled you from returning to wage-earning service, then you are eligible for No-Fault wage loss benefits, which provide a financial lifeline that allows you to support your family while you are recovering from your injuries.

Military compensation includes the following, all of which must be considered when assessing the pre-accident wages of active service military personnel:

  • Base pay (salary based on rank and length of service)
  • Special pay (aviation, parachutist, etc.)
  • Non-taxable allowances (housing, food)
  • Retired pay (a lifetime “defined benefit” plan that is adjusted for inflation)
  • Family medical insurance benefits (rich benefit; little or no cost to service member)

Calculating lost wages

There are two types of assessments for calculating the economic losses that comprise both a wage loss claim and an “excess” wage loss claim for a car accident victim who was on active duty at the time of an automobile crash:

  • Qualitative assessment – Characterize pre-injury service to reliably predict what the course of the person’s career would have been had he or she not been injured in an automobile crash
  • Quantitative assessment – This includes a graphical display of the person’s probable career, including: (1) promotions in rank (using service statistics); (2) amount of active service prior to the accident (this has special importance in case of Reserve or National Guard service personnel); (3) a projection of retirement benefits that may be lost or reduced; and (4) the cost of replacing military health insurance.

It is advisable that your attorney work with an economist who is familiar with military compensation and benefits and a military expert who can testify about the compensation and benefits you would have been entitled to receive if you had not been injured in a motor vehicle accident. Most Michigan personal injury lawyers get this wrong. They are not familiar with military compensation and do not fully understand everything that can be calculated for economic loss and wage loss when representing someone who was in a car accident while on active duty.

Can I sue for pain and suffering damages?

If you were injured in a car accident while on active duty, then you may be able to sue the at-fault driver (and/or owner of the at-fault vehicle) for pain and suffering compensation, “excess” medical bills and lost wages and other economic damages.

If the at-fault driver and/or the owner of the at-fault vehicle was also on active service working full-time for the military when the crash took place, then your lawsuit will need to fit into an exception to governmental immunity that is provided to governmental agencies and employees under Michigan’s Governmental Tort Liability Act.

Need help finding the right lawyer? Call Michigan Auto Law first

If you have been injured in a car accident while on active duty and would like to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney, call toll free anytime 24/7 at (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with one of our attorneys. You can also get help from an experienced attorney by emailing [email protected] or you can use the chat feature on our website.

Car Accident While On Active Duty, Now What?

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