Michigan Car Accident Laws

A detailed look at the statutory time limits for filing a car accident lawsuit in Michigan's courts, the state's comparative negligence rule, and more.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

After any kind of traffic accident in Michigan, if you've been injured and/or incurred significant damage to your vehicle, you probably want to understand your options for getting compensated for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few state laws that could have a big impact on your case, including:

  • the three-year deadline for filing most car accident lawsuits in Michigan's civil court system, and
  • Michigan's "modified comparative negligence" rule, which allows for recovery of non-economic damages only when the claimant was 50 percent or less responsible for causing the car accident.

(Important note on no-fault: Michigan is a no-fault car insurance state. That means, after a car accident, you typically need to file a claim under your own personal injury protection coverage to get compensation for medical bills and other financial losses, regardless of who caused the crash. Only if your injury claim meets certain prerequisites can you step outside of no-fault and bring a claim directly against the at-fault driver. The discussion in the following two sections presumes that you're able to do that. For details on Michigan's no-fault rules, skip to the last section of this article.)

The Michigan Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that sets a time limit on a potential plaintiff's right to bring a lawsuit. These deadlines vary depending on the kind of harm you suffered and/or the kind of case you want to file.

As is true in most states, the statute of limitations that affects car accident lawsuits in Michigan is the same as the larger one that applies to all personal injury cases. Specifically, Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.5805 gives you three years to file a lawsuit over most physical injuries.

When Does the Three-Year "Clock" Start?

Whether you've been injured as a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian, you have three years to take your case to court, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the accident. If someone dies as a result of the accident and their family wants to file wrongful death lawsuit, the deadline is still three years, but the "clock" starts on the date of the person's death, which can be different from the date of the accident.

What If I Miss the Michigan Statute of Limitations Deadline?

If you try to file your lawsuit after Michigan's three-year time limit has passed, you can count on the defendant (that's the person you're trying to sue) pointing out that discrepancy to the court as part of a motion to dismiss. The court will almost certainly grant the motion (unless some rare exception applies to extend the filing deadline), and that will be the end of your case. That's why it's crucial to understand how the statute of applies to your situation.

Even if you're confident that your case will be resolved through the car insurance claim process, you'll want to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit in case you need to—if for no other reason than that you'll have more leverage during settlement talks. If you think you might be running up against the three-year deadline, you may want to contact an experienced Michigan car accident attorney.

Does the Statute of Limitations Apply to a Car Insurance Claim In Michigan?

No. This deadline is for lawsuits filed in court. A separate rule under Michigan's no-fault car insurance system (Michigan Compiled Laws section 500.3145) says that any claim for no-fault (or "personal injury protection") car insurance benefits needs to be filed within one year of the car accident, unless:

  • you've given written notice of your injuries to the insurer within one year of the accident, or
  • the insurer has already made one or more payments of no-fault benefits to you in connection with the accident.

Speaking of no-fault in Michigan...

Michigan's No-Fault Car Insurance Laws

Michigan is one of a dozen or so states that follow a no-fault car insurance scheme. That means injured drivers and passengers must typically turn first to their own personal-injury-protection car insurance coverage to get compensation for medical bills, lost income, and other out-of-pocket losses after a crash, regardless of who might have been at fault. A claim against the at-fault driver is only possible in certain scenarios. Get the details on the Michigan no-fault car insurance rules.

Can I Still Sue If I'm Partly At Fault for My Michigan Car Accident?

Suppose you're seriously injured in a Michigan car accident, and you take your case to court. The jury, after hearing all the evidence, decides that the other driver was responsible for the accident—but that you too share part of the blame. What happens next? How does this verdict affect your right to compensation?

Michigan is a "modified comparative fault" state. This means the amount of compensation ("damages") you can recover in a car-accident-related lawsuit is reduced by the same percentage as your level of fault in causing the crash.

No Non-Economic/"Pain and Suffering" Damages If You're Mostly At Fault

One important wrinkle in Michigan's comparative fault statute says that if you're found to be more than 50 percent at fault for your car accident—when compared with the liability of all other drivers and other parties, not only is your share of economic damages (medical bills, lost income, etc.) reduced by the percentage of your fault, but you're barred from recovering any non-economic damages. This is significant because non-economic damages include compensation for pain and suffering and other subjective losses, which can really add up in a car accident case.

How Does Michigan's Comparative Negligence Rule Work In a Car Accident Case?

Let's say your car accident lawsuit makes it all the way to trial, and the jury determines that:

  • your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $100,000, and
  • you were 10 percent responsible for the crash.

Here, the total amount of your damages, $100,000, is reduced by 10 percent, or $10,000, leaving you with a total award of $90,000. If the jury had found you were 49 percent responsible, you would receive $51,000—but if the jury found you were 55 percent responsible, you would receive 45 percent of your economic losses (medical bills, lost income) and no compensation at all for your non-economic damages.

Does Comparative Negligence Apply to a Car Insurance Claim?

The comparative negligence rule we've discussed here binds Michigan judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court). It also guides a car insurance claims adjuster when they're evaluating your case. A claims adjuster makes decisions based on what is likely to happen in court, so if it looks like you share any amount of blame or the accident—and especially if it's close to 50-50—get ready for the adjuster to play hardball during settlement negotiations.

Reporting a Car Accident in Michigan

Michigan Compiled Laws section 257.622 says that, after an accident, the driver of any vehicle involved must immediately report the collision if it:

  • resulted in injury to, or death of, any person, or
  • resulted in property damage to an apparent extent of $1,000 or more.

The driver must report the accident to the nearest "or most convenient" police station or police officer.

What's Next?

It's always helpful to have an understanding of your state's laws when it comes to car accidents, but if you've been injured in a crash, you might need more than just information. For legal advice that's tailored to your situation, talk to a car accident attorney in your area.

You can also learn more about making a car accident claim and what to expect from the process:

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