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How do the negligence laws in Michigan work?

Being in an accident can be terrifying, and if you were injured, you may be unable to return to work and unsure of how you’ll be able to repair or replace your vehicle and pay your mounting medical bills. It can all be overwhelming and frustrating, especially if you weren’t at fault.

Well, worry no more. At Goodman Acker, we’re honest, ethical, and have more than 150 years of combined experience representing injured Michiganders, so take a deep breath, sit back, and learn about Michigan negligence laws.

What Is Negligence?

Michigan Negligence Laws
Image via Flickr by Tobyotter | Licensed by CC BY 2.0

Negligence is often associated with habitual neglect, carelessness, even laziness. A negligent neighbor lets their grass go for too long. A negligent roommate always leaves their wet towel on the bathroom floor. A negligent parent can’t be bothered to feed or bathe their children. This, however, is not the type of “negligence” that’s so critical to personal injury cases.

According to FindLaw.com, negligence is behavior that falls short of reasonable standards and results in injury. While this usually involves actions — such as someone who’s yammering away on their cell and breezes through a stop sign — negligence also includes failing to do something when there’s a duty to act, like when a loved one develops bedsores during a hospital stay because they weren’t repositioned often enough.

Negligence is also determined by comparing the behavior of the person being accused to that of a “reasonable person” — that is, a hypothetical person with average prudence, intelligence, reason, and foresight. One example would be a severely nearsighted driver who isn’t wearing their glasses and strikes a pedestrian versus a “reasonable” severely nearsighted driver who wears their glasses every single time they drive.

Elements of Negligence

When you decide to pursue a personal injury or wrongful death claim, your attorney will establish that your injuries were caused by another person’s negligence. There are four elements of negligence, and your claim must prove that all occurred:

  • Duty of care. Was there a reasonable standard of watchfulness, attention, caution, and prudence you should have expected from the defendant? This applies employers and employees, doctors and patients, manufacturers and product consumers, drivers of all kinds, and so on.
  • Breach of duty. A driver who failed to yield right-of-way, a radiologist who misdiagnosed a cancerous tumor, a teacher on playground duty who’s playing Candy Crush instead of supervising students — these are just a few examples of breach of duty.
  • Causation. This is divided into two categories: Actual cause, which is also referred to as “cause in fact” and “but-for causation,” requires proof that “but for” the defendant’s actions, you wouldn’t have been injured. Proximate cause assesses the extent to which the defendant was reponsible based on foreseeable risks and outcomes.
  • Damages. Did the defendant’s negligence result in legally recognized harm or loss? Obviously, physical injuries and death are legally recognized, but so is mental anguish and emotional distress. Loss can include medical bills, lost wages, damaged property, and intangible damages like the loss of companionship and loss of opportunity.

Save your bills, track your lost wages, and record additional expenses. Take photos or draw a diagram of the scene of the accident, and write down everything you remember when everything is still fresh: How did the incident happen? Were there witnesses? Did you give a statement to the police or your insurance company? Describe your injuries and document long-term effects, like chronic pain, diminished mobility, cognitive or memory problems, and psychological distress.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

Blame, particularly in auto accidents, is assigned on a percentage basis according to who did what, and damages are awarded proportionate to the degree of determined negligence.

For example, Driver A is approaching a four-way stop. They come to a complete stop, look both ways and remember to yield to the driver on their right who arrived at the intersection at the same time, look both ways again before proceeding into the intersection, and promptly T-bone Driver B, who was speeding and failed to stop at all. Even though Driver A followed the law and Driver B did not, Driver A wasn’t paying close enough attention and is therefore partially to blame.

If Driver A was 20% responsible and Driver B was 80% responsible, and Driver A proved $100,000 in damages, they’ll recover $80,000. In Michigan, economic damages, which are measurable and objectively verifiable, are even awarded if the roles are reversed and Driver A is 80% at-fault, although they’ll only recover $20,000. If the plaintiff’s negligence is greater than 50%, however, Michigan law bars compensation for noneconomic damages, which are subjective and unquantifiable and related to quality of life.

Who Is Liable?

Once negligence is established, liability is usually obvious — doctors and nurses, store owners, at-fault drivers — but it’s not always so cut-and-dried.

  • Product liability. If you’re injured or your property is damaged because of a defective product, the manufacturer and seller may both be liable.
  • Automobile accidents. Compensation is usually paid by the at-fault driver’s insurance company, but what if they’re under- or uninsured? Look into uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage with your insurance company. It’s inexpensive, and if you’re injured and unable to collect damages, your insurance company will be held liable.
  • Medical malpractice. In addition to medical professionals, healthcare facilities can also be held directly liable, as can HMOs, pharmacists, and pharmaceutical companies.

It’s also important to note that wrongful death isn’t always the result of someone’s actions, but can also be caused by passive behavior or neglect. If you’ve lost a loved one and suspect negligence, speak with one of the associates at Goodman Acker to determine the facts of the case and whether you have a valid claim.

Reach Out to Goodman Acker Today

If you’ve been injured due to someone’s negligence and you have questions, we have answers. Laws surrounding negligence can be confusing, but at Goodman Acker, our team of top-notch attorneys are committed to providing the highest possible quality of legal representation to help you navigate the whole complicated process.

We have offices in Detroit and Grand Rapids, and we can handle your case remotely. Contact us today or call us directly at 248-290-9184 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation!

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