- To Sue or Not to Sue: That Is the Property Damage Question
To Sue or Not to Sue: That Is the Property Damage Question
It could come as a rude awakening, but did you know your Michigan No-Fault car insurance doesn’t really protect your car? It’s actually designed to safeguard you and your passengers from injury-related medical costs, offer liability coverage if you’re legally responsible for injuring others in a crash, and to pay the cost of damage you might cause to other people’s property resulting from the accident. In other words, unless you buy optional collision and comprehensive insurance coverage, your car isn’t automatically covered for necessary repairs to damage caused by accidents, or even from destructive events like floods, hailstorms, or vandalism.
We’ll talk more about those important insurance options in a moment, but first let’s discuss when it’s possible (or smart) to consider suing someone who’s responsible for damaging your personal property.
When You Should Consider Suing
Michigan law permits you to file a lawsuit to recover damages against an individual who harms you physically, but only if they have caused you to suffer from “serious impairment of body function or permanent serious disfigurement.” Likewise, you can sue someone who causes destruction to your car, your home, or other personal items. A good personal injury lawyer can help you with both of these situations, and Michigan’s handy mini-tort law (which we discussed in a previous article) can also help you recover car repair costs such as your insurance deductible. But in an unpleasant surprise to some folks, mini-tort won’t help you with car rental expenses for a replacement vehicle while yours is being fixed. You’ll need to have rental coverage in place as part of your own insurance policy if you want that benefit available following an accident.
If something you own other than your car is damaged or destroyed by a driver with Michigan No-Fault insurance, the plan’s built-in property protection benefits (also known as PPI) will reimburse you for “the lesser of reasonable repair costs or replacement costs” minus depreciation and “if applicable, the value of loss of use.” However, PPI benefits are limited to $1 million and don’t cover damage to your vehicle unless it’s a properly parked car. So, for example, if someone crashes into your home and starts a fire causing a total loss of the structure and all its contents, the most you could recover under No-Fault insurance would be the statutory million-dollar limit. You’d have to sue for the difference, if any. And, to reiterate, PPI doesn’t pay for your car if it’s damaged in a moving vehicle accident. You’ll need to have collision or comprehensive coverage in place, or you’d have to file a mini-tort claim.
Regarding the state’s mini-tort rules, let’s quickly recap how this legal protection can help you recover at least some of the costs you might incur if you’re not responsible for an accident. By filing a successful mini-tort claim, you can receive up to $3,000 from the driver who was responsible for the crash – money that can reimburse you for your collision insurance deductible in many cases. But, as outlined in our earlier article, you can file a successful mini-tort claim only if you were less than 50 percent responsible for the accident.
On the other hand, if your bad driving caused the accident, you’ll be ordered by the court to pay mini-tort liability costs yourself — unless you’ve purchased limited property damage liability coverage as part of your car insurance policy. That coverage is designed to pay the mini-tort liability on your behalf. Check with your insurance company about getting this protection, which is typically not too costly.
Guidance for Filing in Small Claims Court
If you have a collision insurance deductible higher than $3,000, or your non-covered expenses resulting from an accident exceed that amount, you can also file for damages up to $6,500 against the responsible party in small claims court. The 52nd District Court in Oakland County offers this advice (which applies statewide) on the basic criteria filing a small claims case: “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.” But you should also know that if the defendant doesn’t have available resources to pay you as a settlement, you might find yourself out of luck. It’s likely if a person is uninsured, it’s because they can’t afford insurance, resulting in a painful “catch-22” for you to experience.
As a side note, you can avoid having to pay a collision deductible at all by choosing “broad collision” coverage as part of your car insurance policy. If you do, you’ll have your deductible waived by your insurance company once it’s determined that you were not at fault. But be aware that broad collision coverage can be more costly than paying for a standard collision policy.
One more thing you should know about these circumstances is that there’s a firm three-year statute of limitations in place regarding the filing of personal injury and property damage lawsuits. This means that if you don’t act within three years following the incident, you’ll have lost your opportunity to file a lawsuit.
Collision vs. Comprehensive Coverage
Up to this point, we’ve focused on damage caused by car accidents, in which case collision coverage will come into play. But there are several other ways your car can be unexpectedly defaced, circumstances where a comprehensive insurance policy will cover your assets. Trees can fall on parked cars during bad weather. Vehicles get stolen. Buildings explode. Rainstorms strike and dams break, causing roadways to flood. Wayward deer run into moving cars and trucks. Vandals wreak random havoc. Cars even burst into flames when they’re parked too close to burning buildings or their hot catalytic converters ignite vegetation (which happened earlier this year in Colorado when an unlucky police officer sparked a large wildfire as he drove across a dry field to investigate a suspicious vehicle).
For these reasons and many others, you’ll want to be sure you have a solid comprehensive insurance policy in place. Details on the ways comprehensive coverage and collision policies differ are spelled out in part 3 of this article published by NerdWallet. Talk with your insurance agent to be 100 percent sure you have the kind of collision and comprehensive coverage you need before you get into a situation where either is necessary.
Don’t Wait too Long to File Your Property Damage Lawsuit
As mentioned above, waiting until you’re near the end of the three-year statute of limitations can put your lawsuit at risk. As time passes, evidence deteriorates, and witnesses can become difficult or even impossible to locate. Generally, the sooner you act, the more likely we can build a winning case to get you the compensation to recover your health and replace or repair your lost or damaged property. So, call us at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) or contact us here at your earliest opportunity. We’ll help you decide whether it’s the right time to sue… and advocate for you, every step of the way.