Do You Have to Go to Court For a Car Accident?

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In 2019, there were 314,377 crashes in Michigan. Of these, 54,539 resulted in injury, and 902 had at least one fatality. With crashes so commonplace, it is vital to understand the laws about car accidents in case you ever find yourself involved in one.

If you get into a car accident, you may not know what to do immediately afterward. One of the first questions you might have is whether you need to go to court after the accident to seek damages. Even if you are reasonably familiar with typical auto accident claims, Michigan auto accident law is unique, and the question of whether you have to go to court for a car accident depends on a multitude of factors.

The laws regarding car accident claims have changed in recent years. Even if you were once familiar with Michigan car accident laws, there are many significant differences that you need to be aware of if you are going to pursue a car accident or personal injury claim, whether against your insurance company, the other driver’s insurance company, or another party.

Do You Have to Go to Court For a Car Accident?

The answer to this question usually depends on whether you can come to terms with your insurance company or another guilty party regarding damages. If you are pursuing a No-Fault claim and the insurance company offers an acceptable amount, then you can accept it and do not need to take any legal action. However, any No-Fault claims against your insurance company are limited to strictly monetary damages.

Insurance companies are not on your side in a car accident claim; their goal is to protect their financial interests, which means paying out as little as possible. Typically, their first offer will be the lowest amount they believe you are willing to accept. If you cannot settle a claim with your insurance company, then you might have to go to court. You may also have to go to court even if you are not seeking damages from your insurance company, but instead, file a lawsuit against the other driver.

This process can be difficult if you are not familiar with the applicable laws and are not experienced in conferring with insurance companies or the Michigan court system. Without this knowledge and experience, you are unlikely to successfully obtain the highest amount of damages to which you may be entitled.

What If Your Damages Are Small?

You may end up in a mini-tort lawsuit if the total damages are under $3,000. In a mini-tort lawsuit, you are not allowed to use an attorney, as this is considered by the state to be a type of small claims lawsuit against the other driver instead of your insurance company. Proceedings in court are less formal than they would be in a claim involving larger amounts of damages and there is no right to appeal. The judge will hear both parties and make a final say based on what each brings to the table, including evidence and witnesses to the accident.

What Is the Michigan No-Fault Insurance Law?

Michigan is a No-Fault state for auto accidents, meaning your own insurance company is liable regardless of whether you were at fault. Both drivers in any car accident are entitled to damages provided by their own insurance company. This is good news for Michigan drivers because until 2019 the state used the tort liability system, which resulted in many victims of auto accidents being under-compensated or not compensated at all. Additionally, the tort liability system caused lengthy delays even if the victim was entitled to compensation. With the new No-Fault liability system, victims do not need to sue the other driver to receive damages.

The Michigan No-Fault Insurance Law, then, means your auto insurance company (or, if applicable, another company deemed responsible) is liable regardless of fault. They are legally required to pay your expenses, such as medical bills and lost wages.

What Does a No-Fault Insurance Claim Cover?

  • Attendant care benefits or nursing services
  • Mileage related to medical appointments
  • Replacement or household services
  • Lost wages
  • Medical benefits

These expenses all have something in common: They are inherently monetary. In addition, medical bills are capped depending on your Personal Injury Protection coverage.

What If You Are Seeking Non-Monetary Damages?

In some circumstances, you may be able to seek damages from a party other than your insurance company. In a No-Fault claim, you cannot seek damages that are not inherently monetary, such as pain and suffering as a result of the accident. If you wish to move outside of the No-Fault system and seek this type of damage, you must file a third-party insurance claim or a lawsuit against the other driver. This can occur if:

  • The accident occurs in another state
  • The at-fault driver is not a resident of Michigan and does not have a vehicle insured in Michigan
  • The accident results in death, permanent and severe disfigurement, or serious impairment in function
  • The suit asks for less than $1,000 in car damage, the damage is not covered by your insurance, and the other driver is more than 50% at fault

If at least one of these factors applies, you may sue the other driver for a personal injury claim.

What Are the First Steps In a No-Fault Car Accident Case?

If you are seeking damages in a No-Fault case, you should notify your insurance company as soon as you can after the accident. After that, you must file for No-Fault insurance benefits.

While you may be contacted by your insurance company, you are not required to give them any information you do not want to. While it is safe to answer basic questions about the accident, such as when and where it happened, you are not obligated to answer questions that may harm your case. You are not required to sign any releases, nor do you need to allow a claims adjuster to assess damages. You have the right to have an attorney present during either of these procedures.

How Long Do You Have To File a Claim?

For a No-Fault claim against your own insurance company, you have one year from the time of the accident. If you are seeking damages for pain and suffering through a third-party claim against the other driver’s insurance company, you have up to three years. However, depending on the language in your policy, you may have less time. Your insurance company may have a policy that requires you to notify them within 30 days of a hit-and-run accident, for example. In addition, insurance companies can change their policies at any time, so it is important to familiarize yourself with the specific provisions in your policy, perhaps with the help of an attorney who is well-versed in legalese.

Do You Need To Memorize All of This?

Not necessarily, and it would be a tall order to ask anyone who is not an attorney to research and memorize all of the particulars regarding car accident claims. Michigan car accidents can be complicated. With so many particulars to consider in any given claim, you may not know where to start and quickly become lost in the specifics. However, help is available at Mike Morse Law Firm for you to take advantage of, and an attorney may be able to explain what your options are and which are in your best interests to pursue.

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