Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Motor Vehicle Accidents
The most important thing to do after a SERIOUS AUTO, MOTORCYCLE or TRUCK ACCIDENT occurs is to make sure that everyone involved is in a safe place and out of harm’s way. The next step is to call the police and EMT assistance. If you or anyone else is injured, get medical help right away. Once this is done, it is important to immediately begin gathering as much information from the motor vehicle accident scene. You must write down details about the facts and your observations at the scene of the accident. If you or someone you know is able to TAKE PICTURES of the accident scene showing the location of the vehicles after the crash and showing the damage to the vehicles – as soon as possible after the crash. Take pictures of the damage to the vehicles and pictures of all injuries and wounds.
Michigan’s no-fault law, adopted in 1973, can be confusing. It is a “no-fault” system, which means that certain benefits are paid by your own insurance company even if the other person was at fault. It also means that you are entitled to certain benefits even if you are at fault for the crash.
If you have been injured in an accident involving a car, truck, bus or another motorized vehicle, the benefits paid to you by the insurance company depends on a variety of factors. However, the benefits themselves are the same regardless of which company pays.
Even if someone else is at fault for your injuries, your major focus should be on getting better and following the recommendations of your doctors and therapists. Do not under any circumstances refuse to follow medical advice because “it might help a lawsuit.” That is the worst thing you could do. Your full recovery and rehabilitation should be your primary goal after you are injured in an accident. You should get written medical restrictions from your treating doctor and follow those completely. You should also get pictures of your injuries (lacerations, casts, bruises, etc.).
“I was injured in an accident involving a car, truck or bus. Am I covered under No-Fault?”
Yes, generally. There are very few circumstances in which you would not be covered for no-fault benefits. The term “no-fault benefits” is also sometimes referred to as “first-party benefits” since you make a claim to and receive these benefits from your own insurance company, regardless of who was “at-fault” for the motor vehicle accident. You should consult an attorney if your application for benefits to your no-fault insurance carrier is denied. However, if you were the owner of an uninsured vehicle and operating that vehicle when involved in an accident, you would not be eligible for benefits.
“How do I get these benefits?”
You fill out a simple one-page application that your insurance company will send you upon request. The form is a notice to the insurance company about the accident. You provide your name, address, details about the accident and the nature of your injuries. It also includes permission for the insurance company to investigate your claim. You have one year from the date of the accident to make an “application for benefits” with your insurance company.
“What insurance company must pay my bills?”
If you own a car or truck that is insured under Michigan law, your own insurance company will pay your benefits (medical bills and wage loss) under most circumstances. It does not matter if you were the driver, a passenger, a bicyclist or a pedestrian. Injuries from motorcycles crashes are one of the rare exceptions to this rule and are treated differently.
“What if I do not have insurance?”
If you were injured while in a motor vehicle and you do not have auto insurance on a vehicle you own, you would collect your benefits from the insurance company that covered any vehicle owned by a relative you live with. If no one you live with is covered by auto insurance, you would collect your benefits from the insurance company covering the car (or driver) in which you were riding (driving) or if that car is uninsured, from the no-fault insurer of the other car (or driver).
Remember, if you knowingly own and drive an uninsured car or truck, you are probably not eligible for no-fault benefits.
“What if I am riding in a taxi-cab, bus or other commercial vehicle?”
This is one of the rare exceptions under the no-fault laws. You would collect benefits from the insurance carrier for the commercial vehicle in which you were a paying customer.
“What if I am not covered by any insurance company and neither is the other car or driver?”
Under these circumstances, Michigan has the “Assigned Claims Facility.” Michigan will assign an insurance company to provide your benefits. You would file the application for benefits form with the Assigned Claims Facility:
Assigned Claims Facility
7064 Crowner Drive
Lansing, MI 48917
“What no-fault benefits am I entitled to receive?”
In summary, your rights consist of payment of reasonable and necessary medical bills, including medical services, accommodations and rehabilitation for the rest of your life for injuries suffered in the accident. Your benefits also include wage loss. You must have written medical restrictions from your doctor to qualify for wage loss benefits. These wage loss benefits from your insurance carrier are subject to monthly maximums and are paid only for the first three years from the date of the crash.
Your insurance company will also pay up to twenty dollars per day for services you used to provide for yourself or your family (dishwashing, snow removal, lawn mowing, etc.) that you are medically restricted from doing and must hire someone else to perform. These are called “replacement services” and may be paid by your insurance carrier for services done within three years from the date of the crash. Additional benefits include mileage to and from medical and physical therapy appointments and payment to people who provide medical assistance to you at home, even if they are your relatives.
Long-term benefits for seriously injured people (spinal cord injury, brain injury, amputation, etc.) are perhaps the most complex area of no-fault law. These may include extended rehabilitation benefits as prescribed by your doctor. These also may include payment for the daily specialized care given to an injured individual, even if that care is provided by a family member. Your treating doctor should provide you with a script for these long-term benefits. It is beneficial to consult with an experienced attorney to discuss the full range of benefits that are available under Michigan law.
Benefits are also available to survivors of someone who has died as a result of an automobile accident. Children and spouses of a person who has died in a car crash may be entitled to a burial expense benefit and survivor loss benefits for a period of three years from the date of the crash. This complex area includes probate law issues and may require the assistance of an experienced attorney.
“What if I have health insurance?”
Under some no-fault policies, your health insurance company pays the medical benefits it provides and your no-fault carrier pays the rest. These will be identified as “excess” or “coordinated” medical benefits in the insurance policy itself. Other no-fault policies are not “coordinated,” and those policies pay your entire medical bills even if you have health insurance. The declaration page (first page) from your no-fault insurance policy must state clearly whether your medical benefits in that policy are “coordinated” or “excess.”
In some situations, your general health insurance provided by an employer may not cover injuries related to automobile accidents and shifts primary responsibility for your medical benefits to your no-fault carrier. This will be stated in your benefits handbook from your employer. Your no-fault insurance carrier may then become primarily responsible for your medical bills. If you have a “coordinated” or “excess” no-fault policy and you do not have health insurance, you will probably have to pay a “deductible,” but your no-fault carrier will be responsible for these bills after the deductible is paid.
“What if I get benefits from someone other than a health insurance company such as workers’ compensation, Medicaid or Social Security Disability?”
Your no-fault carrier has the right to subtract from the wage loss benefits it pays to you all workers’ compensation and Social Security payments you receive as a result of the injury from the crash. Medical benefits you may be entitled to through Medicaid or the federal Medicare programs are always “secondary” to any medical benefits a no-fault insurance carrier is required to pay. You must make sure your health care provider (doctor or hospital) sends the bills to the no-fault insurance carrier for payment.
“What about pain, suffering, scarring and other injuries that are not money losses?”
The Michigan law permits you to make a claim against the at-fault driver for these “human losses” (or noneconomic losses) under limited circumstances. First, you must have been seriously injured. The law defines serious injury as “death” or the “serious impairment of an important body function” that affects a person’s “ability to lead his/her normal life” or “permanent serious disfigurement.” You cannot be more than fifty percent at fault in the accident. The extent of the physical limitations caused by your injury and the duration you will suffer with these limitations are important factors in deciding if your injury qualifies as a “serious impairment of a body function” under the no-fault statute. This is a complex determination that looks at how an injured person’s life has changed as a result of the injuries from a crash. The extent to which the physical limitations have affected your life should be documented by your health care providers through written medical restrictions.
The law in this area is constantly changing. If you have suffered “serious injuries” and another person is 50% or more at fault in the crash, then you should seek the help of an attorney experienced in Michigan no-fault law. This is the only way your rights will be protected. Attorney Richard J. Stolcenberg has been protecting the rights of people seriously injured in auto crashes and their families for more than 20 years.
“Who decides if I have a serious impairment?”
If there is a dispute over the seriousness of your injury, most likely a judge will make the decision on this issue. The judge will decide this using the definitions created by the Michigan Supreme Court. In some limited circumstances, a jury may be allowed to make the decision.
Wage Loss After An Accident
“Who pays my lost wages and for how long?”
Your own no-fault insurance carrier pays your wage loss while you are unable to work because of your injuries. This is for a maximum of three years from the date of the accident. This is paid to you even if you were at fault for the accident or were a passenger in the car or a pedestrian. You must get written medical restrictions from your doctor to qualify for wage loss benefits. You will get your no-fault benefits from one of the no-fault insurance carriers in the following order of priority:
- Your no-fault carrier
- If you do not have coverage, then the no-fault carrier of your spouse or other relative living with you who owns an insured motor vehicle
- If no one in your household has no-fault coverage, then from the owner/driver of the car in which you were a passenger
- If the car in which you were a passenger does not have no-fault coverage and another car was involved in the accident, the other driver’s/owner’s insurance carrier
- If none of the vehicles involved in the accident are insured, then from the Assigned Claims Facility
Remember, if you were the owner and the driver of an uninsured vehicle, you may not be eligible to recover wage loss benefits, even if the other driver was at fault.
“How much wage loss will I receive?”
85% of your average gross wages (based upon the previous six months earnings), including overtime and any wage increases and bonuses you would have received had you been working. Wage loss benefits are tax-free, which is the reason you receive only 85%. Self-employed people are paid based on the adjusted gross income reported on their prior year’s tax returns.
Maximum wage loss benefits are set by law, based on of the date the crash occurred. For example, for an accident occurring between October 1, 2003 and September 30, 2004, the maximum wage loss benefit is limited to $4,156 per month, or $49,872 per year.
“How do I prove my average gross wage?”
The authorization form you sign for your insurance company will permit your employer to release your employment records to your insurance company. Your treating doctor must provide you with written medical restrictions to qualify for no-fault work loss benefits. You should always keep a copy for your records of these restrictions and all documents sent to your insurance carrier.
“What if my wage loss exceeds three years or the maximum amount allowed by law?”
This is a limited situation where you are permitted to make a claim against the at-fault driver (and owner of the car) and their insurance carrier, for an economic loss not covered by your no-fault insurance carrier. You may make this claim even though you may not have suffered a serious injury. To make this claim, you need to prove you are restricted from the physical requirements of your employment by written medical restrictions from your doctor and that those restrictions will result in lost work beyond the three-year no-fault benefit.
“What if I was unemployed at the time of the accident?”
If you were between jobs and would have returned to work, the insurance company will use the average gross wages from your normal job to calculate your work loss benefits. If you were receiving unemployment compensation at the time of the accident, those benefits will stop because you are no longer available for and seeking employment. If you were about to begin a higher paying job but could not start that job because of your injuries, with appropriate proof, the insurance company will use the wages you would have received to calculate your wage loss benefits. You should get written medical restrictions from your treating doctor listing your physical limitations.
If you were not employed and not actively looking for work, you may not be entitled to work loss benefits from your no-fault carrier. You should still have your treating doctor provide you with a list of physical limitations caused by your injury.
Accidents & Medical Expenses
“Who pays my medical benefits and for how long?”
Your medical expense benefits are paid by your own no-fault insurance carrier, regardless of who was at fault. If you do not have no-fault coverage of your own, the rules regarding which insurance company pays are the same as those for wage loss benefits.
Your insurance company will pay all “reasonable and necessary” medical expenses required because of your injury for your entire life. Your treating doctor must prove the medical expenses were for injuries you suffered in the accident. You must make a claim for no-fault benefits from your insurance carrier within one year from the date of the crash in which you were injured. Once you have made an “application for benefits” with your insurance carrier, you must then give your no-fault carrier the bill for any medical expenses you have because of your injury within one year from the day you were treated by that health care provider. Make and keep copies for your records of all letters, prescriptions, work restrictions, and medical bills sent to your insurance carrier and write the date you sent them to the insurance company on your copies.
Medical benefits include:
- Doctors, hospitals, ambulances, home health care, occupational and physical therapy, nursing homes, rehabilitation, etc.
- Medical and other equipment necessary for your care, recovery and rehabilitation
- Mileage to and from the doctor, hospital, or clinic, such as physical therapy
- Rehabilitation: Vocational, and if necessary, educational
- Doctors, hospitals, ambulances, home health care, occupational and physical therapy, nursing homes, rehabilitation, etc.
- Medical and other equipment prescribed by your doctor as necessary for your care, recovery and rehabilitation
- Mileage to and from the doctor, hospital, or clinic, and physical therapy appointments
- Rehabilitation: Vocational, and if necessary, educational
If you were the owner of an uninsured car and you were injured in an accident in that car, you may not be entitled to no-fault benefits.
“Is there a limit on how much my insurance company must pay for medical expense benefits?”
No. The insurance company is responsible for all expenses that are determined as “reasonable and necessary” for your care, recovery and rehabilitation. The insurance company is not responsible for expenses that are “unnecessary” or “unreasonable” (such as a private room unless medically necessary, or fees that are improperly high.) To avoid problems with payment of medical expenses, get a script from your treating doctor for the services or equipment “necessary” for your care, recovery or rehabilitation. Always keep a copy of these and other script(s) for your records.
The no-fault insurance company is responsible for working out any disputes with your health care providers (doctors, hospitals, etc.) the insurance company claims charged an “unreasonable” amount for their services. The insurance company may also try to claim some medical procedures or equipment are not “necessary” for your treatment or recovery. It is up to your doctor to provide support for the services or procedures required to treat your injuries.
“What if my injuries require that my home or car be modified?”
Your no-fault insurance company is responsible for expenses required to modify your home or car to accommodate your injuries. These modifications must be “reasonable and necessary” for your care, recovery and rehabilitation. The insurance company will work closely with your health care providers such as rehabilitation doctors, physical or occupational therapists to determine the extent of your needs.
Your no-fault insurance company will pay up to twenty dollars per day to have someone perform services for you or your family that you would have provided but cannot because of your injuries. These include such things as household chores, meal preparation, babysitting for minor children, transportation and yard work. This benefit may be paid to anyone who performs these services for you, including family members. The $20 is a daily rate. For example, you cannot hire someone for $40 one day and nothing the next. Replacement service benefits are payable for up to three years from the date of the accident. You have one year from the date the service was performed for you to make the claim to your no-fault insurance company for reimbursement for these services.
“What are survivors benefits?”
If a person who is covered by no-fault insurance dies because of injuries suffered in an auto accident, the insurance company must pay to that person’s dependents, spouse or minor children lost contributions of “tangible things of economic value.” These benefits are limited to three years from the date of the crash. The maximum amount the no-fault carrier pays is limited by law to a “statutory cap,” which increases slightly each year. For example, for an accident occurring between October 1, 2004 and September 30, 2005, the maximum amount is $4,293 per month. Social Security benefits or workers’ compensation benefits payable to the deceased individual’s survivors are subtracted from the monthly maximum paid by the no-fault insurance carrier.
“What are ‘tangible things of economic value’?”
Generally, tangible things of economic value include any amount the person would have provided to the dependents in actual wages, other income and fringe benefits had the person not died in the crash.
“What about medical expenses before death?”
The insurance company will pay all medical expenses before death so long as they were reasonably necessary for the person’s medical care as a result of the crash. The no-fault carrier will not pay for such procedures as harvesting organs for transplant to another individual.
“What about funeral and burial expenses?”
The insurance company will pay at least $1,750.00 for funeral and burial expenses. Some policies provide more coverage of up to $5,000.00. You must provide the no-fault carrier with a copy of the funeral bill to recover this benefit.
“What about the losses that are not money losses?”
This is another of the rare times when you can make a claim against the “at-fault” driver and the owner of the “at-fault” vehicle (and their insurance carrier) for the “human loss” caused by the death of a husband, wife, child, father, mother, sister or brother in an automobile crash. You can only make this claim if the other driver is 50% or more responsible for the crash and the vehicle your loved one was driving was covered by an automobile insurance policy. If your loved one was a passenger of a vehicle involved in a crash and died from injuries from that crash, then there is a claim for the loss of that person. You will need the support of an attorney experienced in helping families faced with this loss. This claim may involve probate issues and must be “filed” in court within two years of the death of the injured person. Attorney Richard J. Stolcenberg has effectively represented many individuals and families who have lost a loved one in a Michigan motor vehicle crash.
“Who pays for damage to my car or truck?”
Because Michigan uses a no-fault insurance system for motor vehicle crashes and the damage to your vehicle is considered an “ economic loss,” the “other driver” rarely pays for the damage to your vehicle. Regardless of fault, you or your own insurance carrier pays the expenses to repair or replace the damage to your car or truck. Your insurance carrier will be responsible only if you bought (and were charged for) “collision” coverage of your vehicle. “PL and PD” insurance coverage does not include this type of coverage for motor vehicle damage. Generally, the insurance company may require a certain amount be paid by you first as a “deductible” before it will pay for property damage.
“Can I get my deductible back from the at-fault driver or for damage costing less than my deductible?”
Yes. If you were not more than 50% at fault for the accident, you can recover up to $500 from the at-fault driver for the deductible you must pay or the property damage to your car. This type of recovery would be from either the at-fault driver or from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. You may need to file a claim with the Small Claims Court if the at-fault driver is not willing to pay. You should be prepared to show the judge pictures of the damage to your vehicle and an estimate of repair or a statement “totaling” your vehicle from a licensed body shop at this hearing. It may also be necessary to prove the fault of the other driver with the police report or witnesses that the court will subpoena for you upon request. Some no-fault policies agree to recover this amount from the at-fault driver for you.
“What if my personal property, such as clothes and glasses, was damaged or destroyed?”
Your no-fault carrier will not reimburse you for damaged or destroyed personal property, such as clothing, jewelry and glasses that are considered “contents” of the vehicle unless you bought special additional coverage. If you did not buy this coverage but have homeowner’s (or renter’s) insurance, that may cover your loss.
“What if I was on a motorcycle at the time of the collision?”
Special rules apply under the no-fault law if you were injured while operating or riding as a passenger on a motorcycle that was involved in an accident. Please see Motorcycle Accidents in Michigan at www.rjs-law.com.
“What type of insurance is a motorcycle owner required to carry?”
The owner of a motorcycle is required only to carry liability insurance, which does not cover wage loss, medical expenses or replacement services. Liability insurance only protects the owner and operator in the event they are sued by another person because of the accident.
“What if the motorcycle accident involved a car, truck or bus?”
If the accident involved a car, truck or bus, the injured motorcycle operator and rider can collect wage loss, medical and replacement service benefits from the no-fault insurance carrier of the car, truck or bus involved in the crash, regardless of who was at fault.
“What if there wasn’t any liability insurance on the motorcycle?”
If you were the owner of the motorcycle and did not insure it for liability as required by law, you cannot recover your wage loss, medical benefits or replacement service benefits from the insurer of the car, truck or bus involved in the accident. However, if you were not the owner or registrant of the motorcycle, you will be permitted to make a claim for these types of economic losses if a car, truck or bus was also involved in the accident.
“What if the motorcycle collision did not involve a motor vehicle?”
If a car, truck or bus was not involved in the collision, you may not have insurance coverage for work loss, medical benefits or replacement services unless you or the owner of the motorcycle bought special motorcycle no-fault insurance coverage. The no-fault insurance carrier for your own car or truck is generally not responsible for these benefits if you were injured while operating or riding on a motorcycle.
Other Types Of Coverage
“What if I have uninsured coverage?”
You may have been fortunate enough to have purchased your no-fault insurance from an agent or an insurance carrier who provided you with uninsured insurance coverage. Once a required provision of all automobile insurance policies issued in the State of Michigan, this is designed to provide you with a recovery for “human losses” or lost wages beyond three years, if you (or a resident relative) die or suffer a serious injury (serious impairment of an important body function) in an accident with a driver or vehicle that did not have automobile insurance. For a relatively small price, you can add this coverage to protect you and your family. Michigan Law requires all owners and registrants of cars or trucks driven in this state to carry liability insurance, which protects them from a lawsuit if they are at fault in an accident and someone is seriously injured. Unfortunately, many drivers ignore the law and do not carry insurance. Sometimes, the at-fault driver may even leave the scene of the accident and never be caught. If the at-fault vehicle/owner is not covered by insurance (or is unknown), you may file an “uninsured motorist” claim with your own insurance company if you have this coverage and your injury otherwise qualifies. It will pay for what you would have collected from the at-fault driver/owner if that person had liability insurance coverage. Your claim will be limited by the nature of your injury and the amount of uninsured coverage you purchased from your insurance company. Be careful, the Michigan Supreme Court has decided that the wording of the insurance policy itself controls when and how soon after the accident you must make your claim for these benefits. It most likely will not be the three years you would have to file your claim against an insured at-fault driver or owner. You may also be required by your insurance contract to go through an arbitration procedure for this claim. You should have the help of an experienced attorney to properly protect your rights and make these types of claims. Attorney Richard J. Stolcenberg has represented many people and their families with this type of claim.
“What if I have underinsurance coverage?”
Michigan Law requires all automobile insurance policies have residual “liability coverage” at a minimum amount. This is designed to protect a person and pay if someone dies or is seriously injured because that person (or a person driving their car) caused an accident. The minimum residual liability coverage in Michigan is $20,000.00 per victim and $40,000.00 per incident. Many driver/owners carry only the minimum amount of liability insurance. This amount will not be enough if you or a loved one dies or are seriously injured in a crash. More often than not, the at-fault driver/owner is unable to pay you beyond their insurance liability limits. In these situations, the at-fault driver is “underinsured.”Some no-fault insurance companies offer additional coverage called “underinsurance coverage.” If you bought “underinsurance” coverage in an amount that is more than the “at-fault” driver/owner’s liability coverage and you or a loved one die or suffer a serious injury in a crash, you may file a claim with your own insurance carrier to make up the difference between the amount paid by the other driver’s insurance and the value of your losses or injuries. Your claim will be limited by the amount of “underinsurance” coverage you carry. For a relatively small amount of money, you can protect yourself and your family in an amount that would more sufficiently address your (their) losses.
There are usually strict requirements for making underinsurance claims. If those procedures are not followed, you may be prevented from recovering anything from this part of your policy. Your no-fault carrier will require proof of the seriousness of your injuries and the inadequacy of the at-fault driver/owner’s liability insurance. Your insurance carrier must also consent to settlement with the at-fault party, and it generally receives a “credit” for all money you obtained from the at-fault driver/owner of the other vehicle. The provision may also not allow you to settle with the insurance carrier for the underinsured at-fault driver/owner unless your insurance carrier agrees or consents to the settlement.
Although you are dealing with your own no-fault insurance carrier in making an “underinsurance” claim, these are often difficult and complex claims. You should have help from an experienced attorney in making and supporting these types of claims.
Michigan No-Fault Law Highlights
“How long do I have to notify my insurance company of my accident?”
You must notify your insurance company within one year of your accident or you may lose your right to no-fault benefits. Your insurance company is not required to pay for any wage loss, medical or replacement service benefits that are older than one year. To avoid losing benefits, send written proof of all expenses and losses to your insurance carrier as soon as you have them. Keep a copy for yourself and write the date and the address you sent them to on each item. The insurance company has 30 days after receiving written notice of the claim to make payment, request additional information or deny the claim. All insurance companies are different. A few insurance companies try to pay all of the benefits to which you are entitled. Some insurance companies will not inform you of all of the no-fault benefits you may have coming to you or your family. Take pictures of your injuries and the damage to the vehicles in the crash. Keep the originals and give your insurance carrier copies if you are asked for them. Always get written medical restrictions from your treating doctor stating the limitations caused by your injuries. You may want to consult with an attorney to see if your company is paying you all of the benefits you are entitled to receive under Michigan Law. Often there is no charge for this service.
“Who can I make a claim with?”
There are several categories of possible claims you may make and defendants to legal actions involving motor vehicle accidents. The most obvious defendant is the at-fault driver.
Owner of the at-fault vehicle: Claims against the owner/driver of the vehicle that caused the accident if there was a death, serious impairment of an important body function or permanent serious disfigurement
Your own no-fault insurance carrier:
No-fault benefits for “reasonable and necessary” medical treatment, services, accommodations and mileage from all medical appointments
Wage loss benefits and replacement service benefits for the first three years from the date of the crash
Dramshop claims if alcohol was involved:
Claims against liquor stores, bars or restaurants that served alcohol to a visibly intoxicated person or a minor, who later caused an accident
Some other types of claims that may be brought under some circumstances where a motor vehicle accident occurs causing death or serious injury include:
Product liability claims:
Claims against manufacturers/sellers of a defective product if it caused or contributed to the accident and your injuries
Examples include defective seat belts, improperly designed fuel systems, defective tires and vehicle rollover susceptibility.
Highway and road safety claims:
Claims against a government agency that is responsible for the maintenance of the traveled portion of the road or highway
These are only a few of the types of claims/lawsuits that may be brought. Each type of claim has specific legal requirements. You may wish to consult an attorney to investigate whether you have such a claim.
“Will my conduct in the accident affect my right to file a lawsuit or recover for my injuries?”
Yes. There are several laws that may limit or prevent you from recovering for your injuries.
- No insurance: A person who drives his own car and does not have insurance is not entitled to recover.
- Comparative fault: Your damages will be reduced by your percentage of fault for the crash and your injuries. For example, if the other driver is 80% at fault and you were 20% at fault, you would recover only 80% of your damages.
- Limits on your recovery: If you were drinking or not wearing a seatbelt, your recovery may also be severely limited by percentages set by law.
- No recovery: If you were more than 50% at fault, you generally cannot recover for your injuries.
“Are there time limits to bring claims for death or serious injuries?”
Yes. All lawsuits have “statutes of limitation” or time periods within which a claim must be brought. If the lawsuit is not filed within the time set by law, even if only one day late, you will forever lose your right to make a claim. Many claims are subject to a three-year statute of limitations, but there are shorter time periods in some cases, such as two years in cases of wrongful death. Also, in some claims against government agencies, notice must be given within 60 to 120 days of the accident. Dramshop notices must be given to the bar or tavern within 120 days of retaining an attorney and a lawsuit filed within two years. You should always investigate the possibility of a lawsuit as soon as possible after the accident.
“What about attorney fees?”
There are many options. First, you can hire a lawyer to represent you on an hourly basis. Second, you can hire a lawyer on a “contingency fee basis.” This means that the lawyer will not charge you per hour but will take a fee based on the amount of money you receive. Most personal injury lawyers accept cases on a contingency fee of one-third of the recovery. If there is no recovery, you will not owe the attorney any fee for his/her services, but may be required to reimburse for expenses. All contracts with an attorney should be in writing and fully explained to you. You should not sign a contract unless you fully understand it.
There are procedures that must be followed to bring and settle a wrongful death claim.
If you received workers’ compensation benefits for your injury, those benefits will be reimbursed from your settlement or lawsuit for things not covered by no-fault. Generally, you do not have to pay your no-fault carrier back for benefits it pays to you.
If a person is rendered mentally incapacitated because of an accident, a guardian/conservator/personal representative may need to be appointed by the Court.
Because additional claims may exist, all evidence, such as the car and seatbelts, should be preserved.
Photographs should always be taken of your injuries (casts, lacerations, bruises, etc.) to show the extent of the injuries. Pictures should also be taken of the damage to the vehicle and where the crash took place. You should take pictures to safeguard this information even if you do not think you want to make a claim or pursue an action.
“What if I still have questions?”
If you have been injured and wish to be advised about the “serious impairment of an important body function” requirement, or discuss whether you have a legitimate claim, a free consultation will be provided. No-fault tip: Examine the declarations page of your no-fault policy. If your policy says that you have coordinated or excess medical coverage, you may be at risk for an extreme hassle if you are injured in an automobile accident. Coordinated coverage means that you must first look to your health insurer for coverage for your injuries. Your auto insurance carrier will only cover auto-related medical expenses that your health insurer will not cover. This creates a problem with who is required to provide what coverage. The result: a myriad of paperwork and requests to re-submit medical bills. Generally, you are better off to have noncoordinated or full medical in your no-fault policy, and the cost to change your policy to this type of “primary” coverage is minimum.