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Michigan Comparative Negligence Law: What You Need To Know

October 20, 2021 by Steven M. Gursten

Michigan Comparative Negligence Law: What You Need To Know

Michigan’s comparative negligence law reduces a car crash victim’s pain and suffering compensation and economic damages by the amount that the victim was at fault. If the victim is found 10% at fault for an auto accident and is awarded $1 million in damages, comparative fault reduces this recovery by $100,000 (10% of $1M).

However, if an auto accident victim is found without any fault and is completely innocent – 0% at fault – then comparative negligence will not reduce the amount of damages that the victim recovers.

Here is where the Michigan comparative negligence law – which the state’s law also refers to as “comparative fault” – can get complicated. Various states may have different laws that apply the concept of comparative fault differently.

For example, in Michigan, if a car crash victim was “more than 50% at fault – i.e., 51% or more at fault – for the auto accident that resulted in his or her injuries, then the victim will be prohibited from recovering any pain and suffering compensation, but he or she would still be able to collect economic loss that would then be reduced by the amount he or she was at fault. So if an individual was involved in a car accident in Michigan and he or she was found 75% at fault in causing that car wreck, that individual would receive no pain and suffering compensation because they were found more than 50% at fault, but he or she would still be entitled to 25% of his or her economic loss. If the economic loss is large enough, either because of wage loss earnings over a very long period of time or because of medical bills that person will incur for injuries, it would still make pursuing a car accident lawsuit strategically viable.

In a No-Fault state like Michigan, comparative negligence does not come into play at all when it comes to No-Fault benefits because they are paid regardless of who causes a car accident. In other words, even if a person is 100% at fault for causing a car crash, that fact would not in any way interfere with his or her right to recover No-Fault PIP benefits.

But comparative negligence law does affect claims for vehicle damage repair costs and excess No-Fault medical and lost wages benefits.

What is comparative negligence?

The Michigan comparative negligence law is used by courts, juries and judges to reduce the amount of pain and suffering compensation and economic damages that a car crash victim can recover based on the victim’s fault – if any – for causing or contributing to the auto accident that resulted in his or her injuries.

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% at fault, but the auto accident victim’s comparative negligence was 30%.

Based on the victim’s fault in the example above (i.e., his or her percentage of fault as compared to the other driver), if the jury returned a verdict for $1 million, the victim’s recovery would be reduced by 30% or $300,000.

Michigan’s “comparative fault” statute provides:

“In an action based on tort or another legal theory seeking damages for personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death, the court shall reduce the damages by the percentage of comparative fault of the person upon whose injury or death the damages are based . . .” (MCL 600.2959)

How does comparative negligence affect a car crash victim’s claim for pain and suffering compensation?

A car crash victim’s claim for pain and suffering compensation is “assessed on the basis of comparative fault,” meaning that the victim’s recovery will be reduced by a percentage equal to the victim’s percentage of fault for the auto accident. (MCL 500.3135(2)(b))

However, an auto accident victim will be disqualified from recovering pain and suffering compensation – which is also known as noneconomic loss damages – if the victim was “more than 50% at fault” for causing or contributing to the crash. (MCL 500.3135(2)(b))

Here is how “comparative fault” is explained to Michigan jurors in an auto accident case where the crash victim is seeking pain and suffering compensation – or noneconomic loss damages:

“Negligence on the part of the plaintiff does not bar recovery by plaintiff against the defendant for damages for noneconomic loss unless plaintiff’s negligence is more than 50 percent. If the plaintiff’s negligence is more than 50 percent, your verdict will be for the defendant as to plaintiff’s claim for damages for noneconomic loss. Where the plaintiff’s negligence is 50 percent or less, the percentage of negligence attributable to plaintiff will be used by the court to reduce the amount of damages for noneconomic loss that you find were sustained by the plaintiff.” (M Civ JI 36.15, see “Comparative Negligence” portion of instruction)

Can comparative fault disqualify me from recovering No-Fault benefits?

No. Comparative fault will not and cannot disqualify you from recovering No-Fault benefits to pay for medical bills and lost wages after you were injured in a car crash because your auto insurance company must pay No-Fault PIP benefits “without regard to fault.” (MCL 500.3105(2))

How does comparative negligence affect excess No-Fault benefits?

It will reduce the amount of excess No-Fault benefits for medical bills and lost wages that you can recover based on your percentage of fault for causing or contributing to the auto accident that resulted in injuries and, thus, your need for No-Fault benefits.

Here is how “comparative fault” is explained to Michigan jurors in an auto accident case where the crash victim is seeking economic damages for excess No-Fault medical and wage loss benefits:

“Negligence on the part of the plaintiff does not bar recovery by plaintiff against the defendant for damages for economic loss. However, the percentage of negligence attributable to the plaintiff will be used by the court to reduce the amount of damages for economic loss that you find were sustained by plaintiff.” (M Civ JI 36.15, see “Comparative Negligence” portion of instruction)

Comparative negligence and vehicle damage claims

Comparative negligence will apply to your vehicle damage claims under the mini tort law. Although the maximum recovery is $3,000, your recovery will be reduced based on your “comparative fault” and if you were “more than 50% at fault, then you will be disqualified from recovering. (MCL 500.3135(3)(e) and (4)(a)).

Pure comparative fault states

There are 13 states that use a pure comparative fault system which allows a car crash victim to recover damages even if he or she is 99% at fault, but reduces the damages recoverable by the victim’s percentage of fault:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Florida
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Washington

Modified comparative fault states

There are 33 states with modified comparative fault systems whereby a car crash victim’s damages would be reduced by his or her percentage of fault – but he or she would be barred recovering any damages if the victim was either 50% or more OR more than 50% at fault:

  • Arkansas (50% or more at fault)
  • Colorado (50% or more at fault)
  • Georgia (50% or more at fault)
  • Idaho (50% or more at fault)
  • Kansas (50% or more at fault)
  • Maine (50% or more at fault)
  • Nebraska (50% or more at fault)
  • North Dakota (50% or more at fault)
  • South Carolina (50% or more at fault)
  • Tennessee (50% or more at fault)
  • Utah (50% or more at fault)
  • West Virginia (50% or more at fault)
  • Connecticut (more than 50% at fault)
  • Delaware (more than 50% at fault)
  • Hawaii (more than 50% at fault)
  • Illinois (more than 50% at fault)
  • Indiana (more than 50% at fault)
  • Iowa (more than 50% at fault)
  • Massachusetts (more than 50% at fault)
  • Michigan (more than 50% at fault)
  • Minnesota (more than 50% at fault)
  • Montana (more than 50% at fault)
  • Nevada (more than 50% at fault)
  • New Hampshire (more than 50% at fault)
  • New Jersey (more than 50% at fault)
  • Ohio (more than 50% at fault)
  • Oklahoma (more than 50% at fault)
  • Oregon (more than 50% at fault)
  • Pennsylvania (more than 50% at fault)
  • Texas (more than 50% at fault)
  • Vermont (more than 50% at fault)
  • Wisconsin (more than 50% at fault)
  • Wyoming (more than 50% at fault)

Comparative fault vs contributory negligence

Comparative fault and contributory negligence differ in how they handle an accident victim’s role in causing his or her injuries. Under comparative fault, a victim’s fault merely reduces his or her damages. Under contributory negligence, any amount of negligence by the victim precludes all recovery of damages.

Michigan is not a contributory negligence state. The law provides that “a plaintiff’s contributory fault does not bar that plaintiff’s recovery of damages” in “an action based on tort or another legal theory seeking damages for personal injury, property damage, or wrongful death,” except as provided under the “comparative fault” law. (MCL 600.2958)

The four contributory negligence states are: (1) Alabama; (2) Maryland; (3) North Carolina; and (4) Virginia. The District of Columbia is also a contributory negligence jurisdiction.

Need help after an auto accident? Call Michigan Auto Law first for a free consultation

If you were injured in an auto accident and have concerns and questions about how comparative fault could affect your legal rights to pain and suffering compensation, economic damages and auto No-Fault insurance benefits, you can call toll free anytime 24/7 at (800) 777-0028 for a free consultation with one of our experienced auto accident attorneys. You can also get help by visiting our contact page or you can use the chat feature on our website.

Michigan Comparative Negligence Law: What You Need To Know

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