- Michigan’s “Mini-Tort” Law –Is It an Exception That Proves the No-Fault Rule?
Michigan’s “Mini-Tort” Law –Is It an Exception That Proves the No-Fault Rule?
Michigan’s “Mini-Tort” Law –Is It an Exception That Proves the No-Fault Rule?
A mini-tort might at first sound like a delicious dessert served in one of Michigan’s many fine restaurants. But it’s actually a legal term all Michigan drivers should know about. Because mini-tort filings amount to an important and sometimes highly beneficial exception to our state’s no-fault insurance law.
First let’s talk briefly about the word tort. And then we’ll explain Michigan’s mini-tort rules and why they represent such a major (and often quite valuable) departure from the way our state’s no-fault car insurance policies typically work.
In legal terms, the well-respected Black’s Law Dictionary defines a tort as a “civil wrong … for which a remedy may be obtained, usually in the form of damages.” In other words, if someone’s negligence causes you harm (such as careless driving that isn’t serious enough to be considered criminal behavior) they’ve committed a tort for which you (the innocent victim) may try to obtain a remedy (compensation or payback) by filing a mini-tort claim against them. It’s important to note that Michigan car accidents typically include both a first-party PIP (Personal Injury Protection) claim for medical and other economic benefits and a third-party tort/negligence claim to recover for pain, suffering and other non-economic damages.
As you probably know, Michigan’s no-fault insurance requirement was originally put in place to limit the number of lawsuits being filed against at-fault drivers. The intention was to hopefully free up the legal system for more serious cases while simultaneously expediting payments to medical facilities caring for injured Michiganders. The Detroit Free Press put it like this: “Started in 1973, Michigan’s no-fault insurance system was designed to lower costs and speed up payments to doctors by eliminating the need for accident victims to sue the other driver after a crash to get payment for injuries. Under no-fault, drivers make claims against their own insurance company, regardless of who is at fault in the crash.”
And for the most part that’s still true today … with one big, worthwhile exception.
Michigan’s Unique $3,000 Mini-Tort Policy
Filing a mini-tort claim permits Michigan drivers who are not responsible for an accident to recover at least some damages from drivers determined to have caused the collision (or from those drivers’ insurance companies). The word “mini” is key – because financial payments are indeed limited under this system. Under the law, drivers filing mini-tort claims can receive no more than $3,000 (up until 2020 that amount was just $1,000), which is essentially intended to cover the car insurance deductibles they had to pay. It’s important to note that you must be determined less than 50 percent responsible for the accident to successfully file a mini-tort claim. In other words, if you’re to blame, don’t make a claim.
On the other side of the coin, if your irresponsible driving caused the accident, you’ll be compelled by the court to pay mini-tort liability costs to the other driver out of your own pocket — unless you’ve purchased limited property damage liability coverage as part of your car insurance policy. That coverage is intended to pay the mini-tort liability on your behalf. Check with your insurance company to see about the cost of this protection, which is typically fairly affordable for most Michigan drivers.
There is one way to completely avoid paying a collision deductible if you’re in an accident that’s not your fault. It’s by choosing what insurers call “broad collision” coverage (as opposed to “standard collision”). With this type of policy, your deductible is waived if it’s found that the accident was caused by another driver. As you may expect, broad collision comes with higher premiums, so you’ll have to weigh the price difference to see if you think it’s worth paying extra.
Mini-Tort Claims Can Be Filed with Ease
You can submit a mini-tort claim by following five fairly simple steps:
- Get a copy of the police report that describes your accident. We described how to do that in a recent blog post.
- Locate the declaration sheet from your car insurance policy.
- Go to a certified mechanic or body shop to obtain a written estimate of the repair costs for your vehicle.
- Then take photos of the damage, being sure that they also show your car’s license plate to help verify it’s the one listed on your insurance policy’s declaration sheet.
- Provide all this material to the other driver’s insurance company for processing. You’d be smart to use certified mail to prove where and when you mailed the package, and we also recommend retaining a paper or electronic copy of everything you assembled.
You may need to follow up with the other driver’s insurance company if you don’t receive a timely response to your letter. And in the unlikely event they won’t cover the mini-tort claim, you’ll have to pursue things in your local small claims court.
What if the $3,000 Mini-Tort Cap Doesn’t Cover All My Expenses?
Small claims courts in Michigan are limited to handling cases where the amount in dispute is no more than $6,500. And as we’ve already noted, Michigan mini-tort claims can’t exceed $3,000. When it comes to auto repairs following even seemingly minor accidents, the mini-tort limit may seem inadequate. Thankfully, Oakland County’s 52nd District Court offers some helpful advice if the other driver involved in the collision doesn’t have insurance coverage. Specifically, the court says: “You may file for more than $3,000 if you can prove that the defendant has no insurance. You will need a letter from the insurance company stating that the defendant is not insured. This letter must accompany your Small Claims form.”
Whatever you do, don’t hesitate to file your mini-tort claim as quickly as possible. The statute of limitations (which we also explained not long ago) for these types of filings is three years following the date of the accident.
What About Other Types of Expenses?
Now let’s take a moment to talk about additional costs you may have to pay following a crash… which can include medical expenses, rental car fees, rehabilitation charges, loss of wages if you can’t work during your recovery, and more. Most of those should be covered under no-fault insurance and your policy’s Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits. But as you likely know, Michigan’s no-fault system changed a couple of years ago to permit drivers to save on their insurance premiums by providing options less comprehensive than unlimited PIP coverage. As we described in another recent article, doing that would be a very bad idea. Not only can it leave you vulnerable to medical bills that could lead to bankruptcy, it could also mean you’ll have to settle for less-than-ideal healthcare – risking your life as well. Our advice: Always choose unlimited PIP coverage.
While no-fault insurance sounds like a great idea on the surface, it has some significant underlying problems. The mini-tort process was designed to solve one of those very obvious no-fault insurance flaws – innocent drivers having to pay high auto insurance deductibles when the accident was no fault of their own. But it isn’t a perfect solution. Mini-torts can be helpful, but you might need something more robust to help you recover from a crash. If you’ve been the victim of an accident and need help addressing the pain and suffering, health insurance deductibles, excessive out-of-pocket medical expenses, rehabilitation costs, and other serious issues resulting from another driver’s negligence or irresponsible actions, there is one more step you can take. Call us at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) or get in touch with us here. We’re here for you any time, day or night.