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.

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 Michigan laws that could have a big impact on your case.

(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.

(Note: the statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim -- or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim -- "promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)

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 says that "the period of limitations is 3 years after the time of the death or injury for all actions to recover damages for the death of a person, or for injury to a person or property."

In plain English, that means an injury claim arising from any accident or incident must be filed within three years. So, whether the claim is made by a driver, passenger, motorcycle rider, bicyclist, or pedestrian, the "clock” starts running on the date of the accident. But keep in mind that 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.

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.

Comparative Negligence in Michigan Car Accident Cases

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 "comparative fault" state. This means that the amount of 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.

One important wrinkle in Michigan’s comparative fault statute (which you can find at Michigan Compiled Laws section 600.2959) 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 also barred from recovering any non-economic damages. Non-economic damages include compensation for pain and suffering and other subjective losses, which can really add up in a car accident case.

For instance, suppose that the jury determines that your injuries, pain and suffering, and other losses total $100,000. However, the jury also thinks that you were 10 percent responsible for the crash. In that situation, 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.

Not only does the comparative negligence rule bind Michigan judges and juries (if your car accident case makes it to court), it will also guide a car insurance claims adjuster when he or she is 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, get ready for the adjuster to play hardball during settlement negotiations.

Also keep in mind that since there is no empirical means of allocating fault, any assignment of liability will ultimately come down to your ability to negotiate with a claims adjuster or to persuade a judge or jury.

Michigan's No-Fault Car Insurance Laws

As touched on above, 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.

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