The Complete Michigan Car Accident Guide

Michigan car accidentsThanks to many advanced features, today’s cars are safer than ever before. However, there are still over 6 million car accidents in the United States each year. ¹

“I’ve never been in an accident.” “I’m a great driver.” “Accidents happen to the other guy.” Sound familiar? The reality is, if you’re an average driver you will be involved in 3-4 car accidents in your lifetime. ²

The State of Michigan has it’s fair share of car accidents. Last year alone there were over 297,000 car accidents on Michigan roadways. That’s over 800 car accidents each day! ³

Car accidents happen in the blink of an eye. One minute you’re on your way to work, and the next minute you’re at the side of the road assessing the damage to your car.

What You Need to Know if You’ve Been in a Michigan Car Accident…

Once a car accident occurs, there are laws to comply with, police reports to file, insurance companies to notify, medical bills, car repairs, attorneys, and more. Knowing what to say and do after an accident will have a big impact on what happens with any future property damage or personal injury claim.

To help you through this time, we’ve created nine steps to guide you through the maze of decisions and actions you’ll need to take following a car accident. We’ve also provided answers to some of the most frequently asked questions that come up.

Step 1 – Stop, Check for Injuries, Dial 911

Michigan stop help call

If you’ve been in a Michigan car accident, the first thing to do is stop immediately wherever it’s safe. Stay calm and remain focused. If you’re not seriously injured, get out of your car and begin checking others for injuries. Then call 911.

What information does the 911 dispatcher need?
This is not the time to give your opinion on who caused the accident or why it happened. The 911 dispatcher isn’t interested in your opinion of fault. Fault will be assigned at a later time by the police, insurance companies, or the courts.

When you call 911 and report the accident, the dispatcher will have specific questions. These questions are used to determine whether police, fire and rescue, paramedics or tow trucks will be needed at the scene. Answer the questions fully and clearly. You will need the following information:

The accident location: Accuracy is the key here. Avoid vague descriptions and give as much detail as possible. Use highway mile markers, street names, landmarks and other precise details. Giving the dispatcher a specific location will assure the police and paramedics arrive without delay.

A description of the scene: In the immediate aftermath of a car accident, the scene will likely be chaotic. There may be shattered glass, leaking fluids, mangled bumpers, and cars pointed in different directions. Oncoming traffic may be driving dangerously close to those involved. They may in shock and oblivious to the danger. Let the 911 dispatcher know these kinds of details.

If anyone is injured: Many car accidents are minor “fender-benders,” but there are still many accidents resulting in serious injuries. Tell the 911 dispatcher if anyone is obviously injured or if anyone is complaining of pain and discomfort.

How will I know if police will respond to the accident scene?
Local police, county sheriffs and Michigan State Police have their own policies dictating when officers will be dispatched to an accident scene. In most cases, when the accident is merely a fender-bender and no one is injured, they will not be dispatched. However, when there are injuries or the accident scene is presenting a danger to those involved, they will be sent to the scene.

Which law enforcement agency will be dispatched to the accident scene?
If the accident occurs within a city, village, or town, the local police department will be dispatched. If the crash occurs outside city limits, the county sheriff’s department will be called. If the crash occurs on a State Highway, Michigan State Highway Troopers will be dispatched.

Note: In some cases there will be overlapping jurisdiction. This means one or more law enforcement agency will be dispatched to the scene.

What are my legal duties after an accident?
If you’ve been involved in a Michigan car accident, regardless of fault, you’re required to stop immediately at the scene of the accident. Once stopped, each driver involved must share the following information:

  • Names and addresses
  • Registration numbers of cars involved
  • Driver’s license information

The above information must be shared with the following people:

  • A responding police officer
  • The driver or passengers of the other car(s)

However, if any driver involved in the accident has “reasonable and honest belief” that remaining at the scene will result in further harm, then a driver is not required to stop at the scene of the accident. They instead must immediately report the accident to the nearest or most convenient police agency or police officer.

What if someone is injured?
If the accident resulted in injuries, you must immediately report the accident to the nearest or most convenient police officer, county sheriff, or Michigan State Highway Patrol. Once reported, the investigating officer will complete and immediately forward an accident report to the director of the Department of State Police.

Do I have a legal duty to assist someone who is injured?
Yes.  If someone has been injured in the accident and you’re physically capable of doing so, Michigan law requires you to render “reasonable assistance”. This means you must either arrange or provide transportation to a hospital emergency room where the required medical treatment can be administered.

The “reasonable assistance” requirement is usually met when a driver calls 911 and reports an injury. However, the requirement may not be met if there are obvious injuries and you’re unable to reach 911, or when you know a hospital is so close that you could get the injured person there before help arrives.

Can I be sued if I help someone who’s injured at the accident scene?
Unfortunately, Michigan does not have a “Good Samaritan” law that protects non-medical or EMS personnel. This means while fulfilling the requirements to render reasonable assistance, if you unintentionally exacerbate an injured person’s condition, you could be sued by that person later.

Michigan law does exempt medical first responders, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and other medical personnel when rendering assistance to an injured person at an accident scene. That immunity is waived if the exempted personnel display gross negligence or misconduct which exacerbates the person’s existing injuries, or inflicts a separate injury.

What if I’m injured?
Your injuries may be serious, including bleeding, bruising, abrasions, fractures, burns, and other injuries which are easy to identify. However, some injuries are not so obvious, especially if the symptoms are delayed.

Depending upon the severity of the crash, adrenaline can course through your body, masking symptoms of injuries. Because of this, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention after an accident. If police and paramedics are dispatched to the scene, let them decide if your injuries are serious enough to require a trip to the hospital for treatment.

Note: Failing to seek immediate medical attention after an accident could mean big trouble for your claim later. The insurance company could take the position your injuries weren’t from the accident, but instead caused by an entirely separate event.

What if there are no injuries, but our cars were damaged?
If you’ve been involved in a Michigan car accident and the damage is $1,000 or more, you must immediately report the accident to the nearest police station or officer. To be safe, if you’re not sure about the cost of repair, then report the accident.

Once you report the accident, the investigating officer will complete the crash report and send it to the director of the Department of State Police. This is done using forms provided by the Department.

Note: Michigan State law does not exempt personal property from the statute. This means in addition to any damage to the cars, if personal property within the cars was damaged, the cost to repair or replace it should be included in the $1,000 figure.

Do I have to fill out an accident report?
No. Michigan law does not require drivers involved in car accidents to file individual crash reports. Contacting the police department and reporting the accident is all you’re required to do.

What if I collide with a parked car and no one is in it?
If you collide with a parked car, you’re required to stop immediately at the scene of the collision and locate the owner of the vehicle. Once located, you must give them your name and address. If you can’t find the owner, you must immediately report the accident to the nearest police department or officer.

What if I collide with a fixture, private mailbox, fence or other object along the highway?
If you collide with an object that is alongside the highway, and the accident only resulted in damage to that object, you must locate the owner of that property. Michigan law requires you to take “reasonable steps” to locate and notify the owner, and give them your name, address and your car’s registration number. If they ask, you’re also required to show your driver’s license.

In the event you’re unable to locate the property owner, you must report the accident to the nearest police department or officer.

How can I obtain a copy of the “Crash Report” filed by a police officer?
Previously filed Crash Reports may be obtained for a fee of $10.  To obtain a copy of a Michigan State Police Traffic Crash Report go to the Traffic Crash Purchasing System website.

Step 2 – Michigan’s No-Fault Insurance Law

The State of Michigan is a “No-Fault” insurance state, meaning drivers must turn to their own insurance company for compensation from an accident regardless of who was at fault.

This is unlike many other states that allow you to file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company if they caused the accident.

What Does Michigan’s No-Fault Insurance Cover?
Every Michigan no-fault insurance policy is required to offer Personal Injury Protection (PIP), which pays most or all of the insured’s injury-related costs. These include:

  • All medical bills related to the accident
  • Up to 85% of lost wages due to an injury (for up to 3 years)
  • Up to $20 per day for replacement services
  • Benefits are capped at $4,929 per month
  • Up to $1,000,000 in property damage to others’ personal property

What are Replacement Services?
The replacement services coverage under Michigan’s no-fault system will pay up to $20 per day for household services you previously performed for yourself, but are now unable to perform because of your injuries.

That’s $600 each month to pay for others to take care of such things as housekeeping, lawn and garden maintenance, car maintenance, meal preparation, child care, and the cost of travel. These benefits will only be paid for up to 3 years after the accident.

How much insurance am I required to carry in Michigan?
Drivers in Michigan are required to purchase the following minimum amounts of no-fault coverage:

  • $20,000 for 1 person injured in 1 accident
  • $40,000 for 2 or more persons injured in 1 accident
  • $10,000 per accident for property damage

Does Michigan’s no-fault insurance cover pain and suffering compensation?
In most cases, Michigan’s no-fault insurance coverage does not include compensation for pain and suffering. However, there is one exception…

If an injured party meets the “threshold requirement”, they can circumvent the no-fault requirement of filing a claim with their own insurance company. Instead, they can choose to seek compensation for pain and suffering directly from the at-fault driver. To meet the threshold requirement, an injured person must have “suffered death, serious impairment of body function, or permanent serious disfigurement.”

For more information on Michigan’s no-fault coverage read the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services Consumer Counselor pamphlet.

Step 3 – The Importance of Evidence

Michigan gather evidenceThe minutes following a car accident can be crucial in the event an injury or property damage claim will be filed. If you’ve been injured or sustained damage to your car, the evidence you gather will support your demand for compensation from your insurance company.

Why is it important to begin gathering evidence so soon after the accident?
It’s important to take advantage of the time immediately after the accident. Before too long the police will leave the scene, cars will be driven or towed away, and drivers, passengers and witnesses will be gone. Unfortunately, the evidence will leave with them.

While Michigan is a no-fault insurance state, finding evidence to support your claim for damages can be important. This is true especially if the circumstances of the accident and resulting injuries are exempted from Michigan’s no-fault laws.

What are “damages”?
Damages are unique to every accident and to every person involved. Damages can include:

  • Car repair bills
  • Rental car costs
  • The cost to repair or replace damaged personal property
  • Medical, dental, and therapy bills
  • Diagnostic tests such as X-Rays, CT Scans and MRIs
  • Out-of-pocket expenses (for items like medications, slings, crutches, etc.)
  • Cost of travel to and from to treatment
  • Nursing care
  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering

What other information should I gather to help my claim?
In addition to the information already covered, gathering the following will also be helpful:

  • The make, model, year, and license plate number, expiration date, and vehicle identification number (VIN) of the other driver. The VIN number can normally be found on the car’s dashboard in the left corner at the bottom where the dash and windshield meet, on the driver’s insurance card, or inside the door jam of the driver’s side door.
  • Drivers’ and passengers’ full names and contact information, including home and business addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers. If the driver isn’t the owner of a car, you’ll need the owner’s contact information as well.
  • Witnesses names and contact information.
  • Witness statements (While witnesses aren’t legally required to remain at the scene, convincing them to do so will give you time to determine if what they saw will be helpful to your claim.)
  • Diagram of the accident scene. Note the location of the cars immediately before and after the collision, current weather conditions, the time of day the accident occurred, the direction each car was traveling in and their approximate speed immediately before the collision.

Are photographs and video important?
Yes. Your digital camera, cell phone, iPad, or other recording device can all be used to develop your property damage and personal injury claim. Use your device to take multiple photos and videos of the crash scene. Be sure to include sound.

Photographs and video are important evidence and can identify the position of the cars, weather conditions, potholes, road obstructions, traffic and street signs, and more. They can also reflect the demeanor of the drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and others at the time of the accident.

Sound is important because it can capture such factors as admissions of fault, intoxication, statements about insurance, and other inculpating statements. By taking photographs and video, it makes it difficult for anyone involved in the accident to later change what they said or did.

Are witness statements important?
Yes. A witness has no legal obligation to speak with you, nor give you a written statement about what they saw. However, if you can find people who will speak with you, their opinion of the accident can be very helpful in constructing your claim.

If you can find witnesses who will agree to speak with you, get some paper and ask them to write down what they saw and heard. Legal formalities aren’t required for witness statements. Just be sure they sign and date each page of their statement. Also write down their names and addresses.

Step 4  – Report the Crash to Your Insurance Company  

Michigan call your insurance companyAn insurance policy is a binding legal contract between you (the insured), and your insurance company (the insurer).

While all insurance companies have their own conditions written into their car insurance policies, these conditions are usually similar in nature. They require you to cooperate with them in the investigation of an accident.

What does the “Cooperation Clause” mean to me?
The Cooperation Clause obligates your insurance company to provide coverage for you up to the limits of your policy, including providing legal representation in the event you’re sued.

In return, you’re obligated to cooperate with them in the investigation of the accident. This includes promptly reporting the accident to them, even if you believe you were not the negligent driver.

Failing to cooperate with your insurance company in their investigation may result in your policy not being renewed, a rise in your premiums, or in some cases, cancellation of your policy.

Typical language contained in a Cooperation Clause looks like this:

“The insured shall cooperate with the company by reporting accidents promptly after their occurrence, assist in the investigation of accidents and claims, attend hearings, trials, depositions, assist in securing and giving evidence and obtaining the attendance of witnesses.”

Do I have to report the accident to my insurance company if no one was injured?
Yes. To you the accident may not have appeared serious. In fact, it might have been a minor fender-bender with no apparent injuries. You may be tempted not to report the accident to your insurance company, especially if you think your premiums will be raised. That could be a serious mistake. Here’s why….

Violation of the Cooperation Clause in Your Policy: You’re under a contractual duty to report the accident to your insurance company. By failing to do so, you’re in violation of the terms of the policy.

Delayed Threshold Injury Symptoms: At the time of the accident, the other driver or passengers may have said they were uninjured. However, because the onset of symptoms can take hours, or even days to appear, the injuries appeared sometime after the accident.

Michigan Threshold Injury Exception: The injury sustained by the other driver or their  passengers may fall under the category of a threshold injury.

No Insurance: The other driver may have been uninsured or under-insured at the time of the accident and didn’t want you to know. This can be especially true if the police were summoned to the scene.

Fraud: Unfortunately, there are some people who purposely involve themselves in accidents to “cash-in” by later filing fraudulent personal injury claims. Your insurance company needs time to investigate the accident in an effort to ferret out those fraudulent claims.

Do I have to report the accident to my insurance company even if it wasn’t my fault?
Yes. By failing to report the accident to your insurance company you may give the other driver or their attorney an advantage. This is especially important if the other driver sustained a threshold injury exempting the driver from the no-fault requirement.

This often happens when both drivers leave the scene of an accident feeling as though they weren’t injured. Because symptoms of injuries may not appear for hours, and even days after the accident, it’s altogether possible the other driver sustained an injury and didn’t know it. If that’s that case, the driver may decide the accident was your fault and go on to retain an attorney to pursue a claim against you.

If you failed to report the accident to your insurance company promptly after it occurred, they won’t have any idea of what’s going on when suddenly you receive a letter from the other driver’s attorney threatening a lawsuit.

Example of why it’s so important to notify insurance immediately:

Molly was on her way to work one morning, heading southbound on I-75 outside Detroit. She intended to take exit 4 to downtown Detroit.  To do so, Molly pulled into the right hand turn lane. She waited patiently for traffic to clear so she could safely exit the highway.

As Molly was getting ready to move onto the exit ramp, Jeffrey had entered the lane behind her. Thinking Molly was going to complete her exit, he began to move ahead. What he didn’t realize was that she had slowed to let another driver pass.

Jeffrey collided with the rear of Molly’s car. They pulled over to the side of the road and got out to examine the damage. Jeffrey asked Molly if she was hurt and she said she was “fine.” Jeffrey said he was a little shaky, but otherwise he was feeling fine too.

When the police arrived, Jeffrey said he couldn’t stop in time because Molly stopped suddenly on the exit ramp. They ticketed Jeffrey for failing to “Maintain Reasonable and Prudent Distance” under Michigan’s Vehicle Code Section 257.643 (1) which reads in part:

“The driver of a motor vehicle shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of the vehicles and the traffic upon, and the condition of, the highway.”

Molly and Jeffrey exchanged insurance and contact information. Because the accident appeared minor, with no damage to either car and no apparent injuries to either driver, Molly and Jeffrey left, each relieved not to be hurt and that their cars were intact.

Unfortunately, Jeffrey chose not to report the accident to his insurance company.  He didn’t want his insurance to know he received a traffic citation and was afraid if he reported the accident his premiums would rise.

The next morning Molly could barely get out of bed. Her back was sore and she couldn’t move her neck without feeling pain and discomfort. Her husband drove her to the local hospital’s emergency room.  The physician scheduled Molly for an MRI and CT Scan.

The doctor said Molly sustained disk herniations of lumbar disks and also diagnosed her as having sustained Cauda Equina Syndrome. This is a serious condition in which the bundle of nerve roots at the end of the spinal cord is squeezed. This syndrome may be associated with bowel and bladder problems which may be permanent.

Molly retained a personal injury attorney. Two months later Jeffrey opened his mail to find a letter from Molly’s attorney informing him that she had sustained injuries which qualified as a serious impairment of body function.

In Michigan, the definition of a serious impairment of body function is:

“… an objectively manifested impairment of an important body function that affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.”

By failing to promptly report the accident to his insurance company, Jeffrey not only violated the terms of the cooperation clause, but he also gave Molly’s attorney a substantial head start on the claim.

By the time he received the letter, the attorney had already located witnesses to the accident, secured copies of Molly’s medical records and bills, a medical narrative from Molly’s physician confirming her injuries were a direct result of the accident, her MRI  and CT scan results, and more.

Jeffrey was shaken. He wondered if his insurance company would defend him in the claim, or if he was going to be on his own.

If Jeffrey had simply complied with the terms of his auto insurance policy by contacting his insurance company right after the accident, he might not be in this position. They would have already opened an investigation into the claim two months ago. Now Jeffrey had to wait to see if his insurance company would defend him in the lawsuit, raise his premiums, or even cancel his policy.

I know the accident was my fault. The other driver said he wasn’t injured, and the damage to our cars was minor. He asked me to pay him without getting the insurance companies involved. Is this a good idea?
No. Do not make any side agreements to pay. You should also never admit fault at the accident scene. Some symptoms of injuries won’t appear for hours, and sometimes even days after an accident.

It’s entirely possible the other driver believed he wasn’t injured at the scene, but later began to experience symptoms of injuries. This could be pain and discomfort from sprained, strained or torn muscles, ligaments, tendons, whiplash and other injuries whose symptoms were suppressed after the accident.

Moreover, the driver may decide to retain an attorney. If that were to occur and you had not reported the accident to your insurance company, they would not have had prior knowledge of the accident, forcing them to scramble to protect you.

Are there mobile apps to help file accident claims?
Yes. Most insurance companies today have mobile apps which enable their insured to quickly and simply report car accidents. The apps can have the ability to:

  • Take photographs
  • Initiate claims
  • Fulfill the reporting requirement with the insurance company
  • Create and send state-required auto crash reports
  • Draw 3-dimensional sketches of the accident scene
  • Collect personal information, driver’s license and insurance information, and more
  • Give a GPS location of the accident scene

Below are just a few of the companies offering car accident reporting apps:

Step 5 –  Michigan’s Comparative Negligence Law

Michigan comparative negligence lawThe State of Michigan has adopted the Modified Comparative Fault System, sometimes referred to as the “51% Bar.” Under this system, and in conjunction with Michigan’s no-fault laws, each driver may be held responsible for damages sustained in the accident in proportion to each driver’s percentage of fault.

A victim filing a property damage or personal injury claim will be entitled to recover damages from the at-fault driver as long as the victim’s own comparative fault was not greater than 50%.

If their blame in the accident is determined to be 51% or higher, Michigan law bars them from recovering any compensation from the other driver.

What are some examples of how Michigan Comparative Negligence law works?
Here are three scenarios:

Example #1: One driver is entirely at-fault in causing the accident…

Jeffrey was late for work. He was headed North on Boyle Street in Boston. When Jeffrey came upon the intersection of Boyle and Main Street, the light had just turned red. Instead of stopping, Jeffrey accelerated running through the red light, crashing into Molly’s car as she was heading East on Main Street.

Molly sustained multiple, complex fractures to her right tibia and fibula requiring the doctors to implant pins to hold the bones together. The doctors said she would likely have a slight limp the rest of her life.

Molly’s injuries were deemed to be serious impairment of body function, thereby qualifying under Michigan’s threshold exception. In this case Jeffrey was 100% at fault, entitling Molly to 100% of her damages. This included her medical and therapy bills, out of pocket expenses for medications, costs of travel to treatment, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

Example #2: The driver and victim share some percentage of fault…

Molly was driving home on US-24 in the right lane southbound to Toledo. Darrel was behind her and decided to pass, so he signaled and moved into the left lane. He increased his speed and after moving ahead of Molly’s car, Darrel signaled his intention to move back to the right lane. As he did, he struck the front passenger side quarter panel of Molly’s car, causing both cars to crash.

Michigan Highway Patrol was dispatched to the scene. Darrell was ticketed by the trooper in violation of Michigan Vehicle Code 257.636 (a) Section 2 which reads in part:

“The driver of a vehicle overtaking another vehicle proceeding in the same direction shall pass at a safe distance to the left of that vehicle, and when safely clear of the overtaken vehicle shall take up a position as near the right-hand edge of the main traveled portion of the highway as is practicable.”

However, Molly was also ticketed by the trooper in violation of Michigan Vehicle Code 257.636(b), which read in part:

Except when overtaking and passing on the right is permitted, the driver of an overtaken vehicle shall give way to the right in favor of the overtaking vehicle on audible signal and shall not increase the speed of his or her vehicle until completely passed by the overtaking vehicle.

Molly’s injuries qualified under Michigan’s No-fault Threshold as a serious impairment of body function. Molly retained an attorney who filed a lawsuit against Darrell for $100,000, representing her medical bills and related damages.

Darrell’s insurance company provided an attorney to defend him. During their investigation of the accident, his insurance company located a witness who said she saw Molly speed up after Darrel was safely past her, hindering him from safely moving back in front of her car.

In their verdict the jury found Darrel’s comparative negligence in causing the accident amounted to 75%, and apportioned Molly’s negligence at 25%. As a result, Molly was only awarded $75,000, representing the total award less her 25% comparative negligence.

Example #3: The victim’s comparative fault is determined to be over 51%…

At trial Darrell and his witnesses testified he was well ahead of Molly as he attempted to move back into the right lane in front of her. Darrell also gave an audible signal to Molly, as he slowly moved back into the right lane in front of her.

The witnesses testified that not only did Molly accelerate, but she appeared to have purposely attempted to block Darrell from re-entering the right lane. In this case the jury apportioned Molly’s comparative fault at 55 percent.

Under Michigan’s Comparative Fault statute, because Molly’s negligence was apportioned at 55 percent, she was barred by law from recovering any compensation from Darrell. The same would have applied if the jury had apportioned Molly’s comparative negligence at 51 percent or higher.

Step 6 – The Role of Police at Accident Scenes

Michigan role of the policeLaw enforcement officers today receive continued training in modern forms of accident scene investigation. When police officers are dispatched to an accident scene, they are focused on fulfilling their duties. It’s important for you to fully cooperate with them at all times.

What is the role of law enforcement at the accident scene?
When law enforcement is dispatched to a Michigan car accident scene, they will:

  • Seek out the injured and call for paramedics when necessary
  • Secure the accident scene with pylons, flares, and tape
  • Direct traffic around the accident scene
  • Look for signs of intoxication
  • Summon tow trucks where required
  • Seek out physical evidence which contributed to the accident including skid marks, obstructions, and weather conditions
  • Question drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and others with information about the collision
  • Run warrant checks
  • Issue traffic citations when applicable
  • Give drivers a “Case “or  “Service” number so they can later obtain the officer’s crash report

Do police officers have to listen to my side of the story?
No. While you have every right to try to give the officers your opinion of the factors you believe caused the accident, officers are not obligated to discuss anything with you.

When a police officer tells you he will talk with you shortly, it’s important to respect his command to be patient. It’s understandable that you may want to tell your side of the story right away, but getting in his way will only cause you more problems. Doing so may impede the accident investigation. Persisting may result in a citation, or in extreme cases, your arrest.

Do I have to answer questions from the police?
It depends. If the officers ask you to identify yourself, including  your full name and address, proof of registration, and proof of insurance, you must comply. However, if you’re being questioned about possession of drugs, or for any other action which might result in criminal charges, you have the right not to answer those questions.

What if the police officer gives me a ticket?
If a police officer decides you were in violation of one or more of Michigan’s traffic laws, you may be issued a traffic citation. You can certainly attempt to talk the officer out of it, but if the officer does issue the citation you must sign and accept it.

It’s important to know signing the citation is not an admission of guilt. Your signature is only an agreement to appear in court to face the charge. At that time you may enter a plea of not guilty and contest the citation. Remember that traffic citations are only circumstantial evidence of guilt.

Step 7 – Retain an Attorney or Represent Yourself?

Michigan attorney or self representSome personal injury claims can be handled by a victim without legal representation. But there are others which always require an experienced attorney.

What’s the difference between “soft tissue” and “hard injuries”?
When it comes to car accidents there are two  types of injuries. They are  “soft tissue,” and “hard injuries.”

Soft tissue injuries include strains and sprains to ligaments, tendons, muscles, minor bruising and abrasions, cuts not requiring stitches, first degree burns, whiplash, and other relatively minor injuries.

Because soft tissue injuries generally don’t result in substantial medical or therapy bills, nor do they involve complex issues of law, a victim can negotiate their own injury claim with the insurance company. Moreover, in soft tissue injuries, there may not be enough compensation to pay an attorney and still leave you with enough to pay for all your medical bills and pain and suffering.

Hard injuries are much more serious. They can include head trauma, fractures, third degree burns, deep gashes requiring stitches, and other injuries requiring substantial and extensive medical care.

Compensation for a serious injury claim can be substantial. As a result, there’s just too much to lose by representing yourself. You may think you can be just as effective as an experienced personal injury attorney. That’s just plain wrong. By representing yourself you will likely end up settling for an amount substantially less than an attorney could have obtained for you, even after attorney’s fees are deducted.

Insurance companies know claimants who go it alone can only negotiate so far. While an insurance claims adjuster may lead you to believe you’re an expert negotiator, the truth is you’re just a pawn to the adjuster.

At some point in the negotiations, the claims adjuster is going to say, “That’s our final offer.” Suddenly your leverage is gone, and at that point it’s take it, or leave it.

Hard injury claims often require filing a lawsuit. Insurance companies don’t like lawsuits. They know once a lawsuit is filed they’ll have to pay substantial legal fees to defense attorneys. Lawsuits almost always require pretrial discovery, including depositions, interrogatories, subpoenas for production of documents, and more. These are actions only an attorney can take.

Through lawsuits personal injury attorneys can learn what the at-fault driver’s policy limits are, whether the driver has a past record of traffic accidents, traffic tickets, prior arrests, prior lawsuits, and much more.

How much do personal injury attorneys charge?
In most cases, personal injury attorneys don’t charge for initial office consultations. When you find an attorney who will accept your case, the attorney will agree to represent you on a “contingency fee” basis.

A contingency fee means you do not have to pay the attorney any legal fees until the attorney successfully settles your case or wins it at trial. If your attorney fails to settle your claim or loses at trial, you’re not required to pay attorneys fees or court costs. Those can be substantial, including medical experts, court reporters, filing fees, private investigator fees, and much more.

Contingency fees can range from 25% to 40% depending on the time it will likely take to resolve the case, the complexity, the attorney’s outlay of costs, and whether or not the case has to be tried in front of a jury.

How do I chose a good attorney?
Today, most personal injury attorneys have interactive websites setting out the types of cases they accept, their experience, and in some cases examples of settlements or court awards. In many cases you can chat immediately with an attorney or a paralegal.

Talk to several personal injury attorneys in your area. After you schedule an office consultation, remember to bring along copies of your medical and therapy records and bills, a copy the accident report, photographs, witness statements and other documents related to the accident.

The attorney will review the evidence, discuss with you the underlying facts, and ask questions. After doing so the attorney may be able to give you their opinion of the viability of your claim, whether or not they believe then claim will settle, or if the claim may have to be tried in court.

Step 8 – Small Claims Court and You

Michigan small claim courtIn the event you’ve had no success in settling your property damage claim, you may consider filing a lawsuit in one of Michigan’s Small Claims Courts.

Small claims courts are designed to give aggrieved parties a forum to have their cases heard before a judge. The nature of small claims courts is to provide a relaxed venue where parties aren’t bound by Michigan’s formal Rules of Evidence.

What amount can I sue for in Small Claims Court?
Michigan’s Small Claims Courts have jurisdiction to hear cases in controversy up to $6,000.

Under what circumstances would I consider suing in small claims court?
Because Michigan’s no-fault insurance system does not require drivers to file 1st party property damage claims with their own insurance companies, if you’ve been the victim of a car accident, you can pursue the at-fault driver for compensation for repairs or replacement of property damage.

When it comes to property damage claims in Michigan you have three options:

  1. File a 1st party property damage claim with your own insurance company
  2. File a property damage claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company
  3. Sue the at-fault driver

How can I find out more about filing a lawsuit in one of Michigan’s Small Claims Courts?
To learn more about filing a lawsuit in one of Michigan’s Small Claims Courts, and for access to forms, including affidavits, petitions, summons and more, go to the Michigan Small Claims Court website.

Step 9 – The Statute of Limitations

Michigan statute OF limitations“Statute of Limitations” refers to the time period in which you have to either settle your property damage or personal injury claim, or file a lawsuit. Whether you represent yourself or retain an attorney, Michigan’s Statutes of Limitations apply.

If the statute of limitations period is about to expire and you haven’t settled your claim, you must file a lawsuit if you want to preserve your right to seek compensation from the at-fault driver.

If the statute of limitations expires and you haven’t settled your claim or filed a lawsuit, you forever lose your legal right to further pursue compensation from the at-fault driver or the driver’s insurance company.

What is the Statute of Limitations in the State of Michigan for personal injury and property damage claims?
The statutes of limitations for personal injury or property damage claims in the State of Michigan is three years. In almost all cases, the statute of limitations period begins on the date of the accident.

What should I do if the statute of limitations is about to expire and I haven’t settled my injury claim?
If you believe the statute of limitations is about to expire and you haven’t settled your injury claim, in order to preserve your legal right to continue your claim, you must file a lawsuit, even if you file one in small claims court.

The insurance company won’t return my calls or my emails. What can I do?
Insurance companies and the claim adjusters who work for them have no legal obligation to settle your claim or remind you the statute of limitations is about to expire. You can be sure the insurance company claims adjuster won’t call, email, or text to tell you the date is approaching.

Enter the statute of limitations date into your cell phone, iPad, calendar, on your refrigerator, or any other place to remind yourself of this important date.

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