Small Claims Court For Michigan Car Accident: What You Need To Know
If an at-fault driver refuses to pay for your vehicle damage, the most you can sue for in Small Claims Court for a Michigan car accident is $6,500 in money damages. If the at-fault driver was insured, then you’re limited to the $3,000 mini tort maximum. Otherwise, you can sue for full damages up to $6,500.
Under Michigan’s mini tort law, the owner of a vehicle that was damaged in an auto accident can recover up to $3,000 from the at-fault driver to cover vehicle repair costs. However, if at-fault vehicle was uninsured, then the mini tort recovery limit does not apply and the driver and/or owner of the at-fault vehicle can be held liable for the full amount of the vehicle damage repair costs.
In the event that the vehicle damage amount exceeds $6,500 (which is the jurisdictional limit for Small Claims Court, per MCL 600.8401(d)), then you will have to remove your claim from Small Claims and file a lawsuit in District Court.
It is important to remember that if you do litigate your mini tort claim in Small Claims Court for your Michigan car accident that lawyers are not allowed and you will have to represent yourself.
The tips below will help you to present your best possible case.
Who pays a mini tort claim?
The at-fault driver who causes the collision resulting in vehicle damage is the person who pays a mini tort claim. If the driver has mini tort limited property damage coverage, then his or her auto insurance company may pay. The maximum recovery amount is $3,000.
Trial proceedings in small claims court for a Michigan car accident
The District Court clerk sends notice to the plaintiff and the defendant of “[w]hen and where to appear” for a trial “before a judge of the small claims division.” (MCL 600.8404(1); 600.8406(1))
A judge who is hearing a Mini Tort trial “shall conduct” the proceeding “in an informal manner so as to do substantial justice between the parties according to the rules of substantive law but shall not be bound by the statutory provisions or rules of practice, procedure, pleading or evidence …” (MCL 600.8411(2))
In terms of proving one’s case, the person who filed the Mini Tort lawsuit may bring “all books, papers, and witnesses necessary to prove the claim.” (MCL 600.8406(1); 600.8404(1)(b); and MCR Rule 4.303(A))
Bringing witnesses to small claims court for a Michigan car accident
Although “[a] letter or affidavit from a witness will be accepted as evidence by the court without the witness being physically present at the trial,” according to the State Court Administrative Office’s web site, “it is better if [a person who has filed a Mini Tort/Small Claims lawsuit] have [her] witnesses come to court.”
However, when circumstances require, a litigant can compel a witness’s appearance for a Mini Tort/small claims trial by asking the clerk of the court to issue and serve a subpoena on the witness. A “fee for attendance and mileage” must also be paid to the witness. (See MCR 2.506(A)(1) and (G) and the State Court Administrative Office’s website)
No lawyers, jury trials, trial transcripts or appeals in small claims court for a Michigan car accident
Plaintiffs and defendants in small claims court for a Michigan car accident cannot be represented by attorneys (that’s the good news): “An attorney at law … shall not take part in the filing, prosecution, or defense of litigation in the small claims division.” (MCL 600.8408(1))
In addition to not having “the right to counsel,” plaintiffs and defendants who go to trial waive their “right to trial by jury” and “any right of appeal.” (MCL 600.8408(4); 600.8411(2); 600.8412) Moreover, no “verbatim record” of the Small Claims trial proceedings will be made. (MCL 600.8411(2))
Preserving the right to lawyers, jury trials, trial transcripts and appeals
For plaintiffs and/or defendant who do not wish to waive their rights as described above, “both parties,” i.e., “the plaintiff or defendant,” “may remove the case from the small claims division to the general civil division of the district court,” where the litigants have the rights to be represented by counsel, to have their cases tried before a jury, to have record of the proceedings made and to appeal unfavorable judgments to a higher court for review. (MCL 600.8402(3); 600.8408(4); 600.8411(1) and (2))
Elements of a mini tort claim
To win on a Mini Tort lawsuit for vehicle damage in small claims court for a Michigan car accident, a plaintiff must satisfy the following elements of a Mini Tort claim:
- A person’s car or truck was damaged in a Michigan car or truck accident.
- The damaged car or truck was covered by a valid Michigan No Fault auto insurance policy at the time of the accident. (MCL 500.3135(4)(e))
- The other driver who caused the accident was 50% or more at fault. (MCL 500.3135(4)(a))
- The car or truck damage is not covered by insurance. (MCL 500.3135(3)(e))
- The dollar value of the money damages being sought in the mini tort lawsuit equals the cost for repairing the accident-related car or truck damage, but does not exceed the maximum mini tort recovery amount which is $3,000 for motor vehicle collisions that occur after July 1, 2020. (MCL 500.3135(3)(e))
Evidence to prove a mini tort claim in small claims court for a Michigan car accident
Below are examples of the types of evidence that a person should consider presenting during her or his mini tort trial in small claims court for a Michigan car accident:
- Police report/crash report/accident report
- Written witness statements provided to police at crash scene
- Vehicle damage photos
- Damage repair estimates
- Moving violation and/or hazardous action tickets issued to the Defendant
- Letters and/or affidavits from witnesses
- Proof of valid No-Fault auto insurance (for the damaged vehicle on the crash date)
Injured and need a lawyer? Call Michigan Auto Law
If you have been injured in a crash and you have questions about your legal rights, you can call toll free anytime 24/7 at (248) 353-7575 for a free consultation with one of our experienced auto accident attorneys. You can also get help from an experienced accident attorney by visiting our contact page or you can use the chat feature on our website.