Michigan Car Accident Laws: What You Need To Know
If you’ve been injured in a car crash, the Michigan car accident laws allow you to sue the at-fault driver if you first prove: (1) the at-fault driver was negligent; (2) his or her negligence was a cause of your injuries; and (3) the injuries you suffered meet Michigan’s serious impairment of body function threshold test. In addition, Michigan’s car accident laws also allow you to bring a No-Fault PIP claim with your own auto No-Fault insurance company and a mini tort claim for vehicle damage caused by the wrongdoer driver.
How do the Michigan car accident laws define “serious impairment of body function”?
The Michigan car accident laws explain that a “serious impairment of body function” has occurred when a victim’s injuries result in an impairment that is: (1) objectively manifested; (2) involves an important body function; and (3) affects the victim’s “general ability to lead his or her normal life.”
This is known as Michigan’s car accident threshold law. It is the legal requirement that all car accident victims must satisfy in order to sue an at-fault (negligent) driver who injured them for pain and suffering compensation, which is also known as “noneconomic loss” damages.
An auto accident victim’s injury-related impairments qualify as a “serious impairment of body function” if they meet these three requirements:
- “It is objectively manifested, meaning it is observable or perceivable from actual symptoms or conditions by someone other than the injured person.” (MCL 500.3135(5)(a))
- “It is an impairment of an important body function, which is a body function of great value, significance, or consequence to the injured person.” (MCL 500.3135(5)(b))
- “It affects the injured person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life, meaning it has had an influence on some of the person’s capacity to live in his or her normal manner of living.” (MCL 500.3135(5)(c))
The Michigan car accident laws clarify that there is “no temporal requirement for how long an impairment must last” for it to qualify as a “serious impairment of body function.” (MCL 500.3135(5)(c))
Additionally, the laws state that a “serious impairment of body function” determination must:
- “[B]e conducted on a case-by-case basis”;
- Consider the facts and circumstances that are specific “to each injured person”; and
- Involve a “comparison of the injured person’s life before and after the incident.” (MCL 500.3135(5)(c))
Do the laws allow me to sue for pain and suffering compensation if my injuries or my impairments are not permanent?
The Michigan car accident laws are clear that you do not need to suffer a permanent injury or a permanent impairment to qualify as a “serious impairment of body function.” The laws state: “[T]here is no temporal requirement for how long an impairment must last.” (MCL 500.3135(5)(c))
Michigan’s jury instruction in third-party auto negligence cases (i.e., when you sue the person responsible for causing the crash and your injuries and impairments) reads as follows:
- “An impairment does not have to be permanent in order to be a serious impairment of body function.” (M Civ JI 36.01A)
- If the jury finds that an auto accident victim has suffered a serious impairment of body function, but his or her “injury has ceased, or may in the future cease to be a serious impairment of body function, that fact will not relieve [the at-fault driver] from liability for any of the noneconomic loss damages suffered by plaintiff as a proximate result of defendant’s negligence.” (M Civ JI 36.01B)
Fault in Michigan car accident cases
Michigan is a No-Fault state for car accidents which means after a car accident, Michigan law requires drivers’ are required to have personal injury protection (PIP) insurance which pays for their medical bills and lost wages after a crash regardless of whether they caused the accident. Pain and suffering compensation can be recovered only if the other driver is shown to be at-fault.
When is a crash victim barred from suing?
The Michigan car accident laws bar a crash victim from suing the at-fault driver for pain and suffering compensation if: (1) the victim was “more than 50% at fault” for causing the crash; or (2) the victim was driving his or her own “uninsured” vehicle at the time of the crash. (MCL 500.3135(2)(b) and (c))
How have the Michigan car accident laws changed concerning pain and suffering compensation?
The Michigan car accident laws have gone from only imposing the general “serious impairment of body function” requirement to passing legislation explaining that a “serious impairment” “affects the injured person’s general ability . . . to live in his or her normal manner of living” and has “no temporal requirement.”
In 1973, the Michigan Legislature passed the No-Fault auto insurance law which required only that a crash victim suffer “serious impairment of body function” to be able to sue the at-fault driver for pain and suffering compensation.
After two contentious rulings by the Michigan Supreme Court in 1982 and 1986, the Michigan Legislature amended the law in 1995 so that a “serious impairment of body function” was 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.”
Again, the Michigan Supreme Court had trouble interpreting the statutory language in the car accident laws and in 2004 the justices issued the infamous Kreiner v. Fischer opinion, wherein a partisan majority created its own legal requirements that car accident victims had to meet. The result was that thousands of innocent and seriously injured automobile crash injury victims were ultimately wrongfully denied access to justice when their cases were thrown out of court.
In 2010, the Michigan Supreme Court decided its landmark ruling in McCormick v. Carrier, where the justices overruled Kreiner’s interpretation of the “serious impairment of body function” statute, holding that “Kreiner v. Fischer . . . was wrongly decided because it departed from the plain language of MCL 500.3135, and is therefore overruled . . . Because the Kreiner majority created ambiguity where there was none, and crafted a statutory interpretation that is, in effect, a judicially constructed house of cards, we hold that it incorrectly interpreted [the law].”
In 2019, in Public Acts 21 and 22, the Michigan Legislature amended the tort threshold law in MCL 500.3135(1) and (5) “to codify and give full effect to the opinion of the Michigan supreme court in McCormick v Carrier, 487 Mich 180 (2010).”
Why it’s important to have a lawyer that specializes in Michigan car accident laws
Even though our current Michigan car accident laws, which codify the Michigan Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in McCormick v. Carrier, are more fair than the law was under Kreiner v. Fischer, Michigan’s serious impairment tort threshold is still much stricter than most other states.
This should not stop you from seeking compensation for harms and losses caused by a negligent driver. That said, it should reinforce why it is so important to hire an experienced Michigan car accident lawyer who specializes in handling auto accident and truck cases. You will have a much better chance at meeting the serious impairment of body function threshold test and recovering for your personal injuries with a lawyer who can help to document and demonstrate how your impairments meet the legal threshold required under the law. An experienced auto accident lawyer can also keep you from making innocent mistakes that can sometimes ruin an otherwise meritorious lawsuit.
Injured in a car accident in Michigan? Call the attorneys at Michigan Auto Law
If you were injured in a car accident in Michigan, call now (855) 781-7747 for a free consultation with one of our experienced car accident lawyers. There is no cost or obligation. You can also visit our contact page or use the chat feature on our website.
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(Sources: M Civ JI 36.01A; 36.01B; 36.06)