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How is Fault Determined in a Car Accident?


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Determining fault in a Michigan auto accident is not always as straightforward as you might assume. Assigning liability can be more challenging when there are more than two vehicles involved in the accident. Every collision is different, and determining fault requires a thorough investigation and sometimes the use of experts. If you or a loved one were injured in an auto accident in Michigan, contact an experienced Detroit auto accident lawyer who can help.

Michigan's No-Fault Laws

Dents in front right of silver hybrid car after car accident
Image via Flickr by cygnus921

You might be wondering why you need to determine fault for an accident in Michigan since it's a no-fault state. No-fault laws mean that your own car insurance will cover your injuries, no matter who was at fault for the collision. Drivers purchase personal injury protection, or PIP, coverage. Under the new law that became effective in July 2020, PIP is available in multiple policy limit amounts, ranging from $50,000 to unlimited. Qualified drivers can also opt out of the requirements.

Recovery in a PIP claim is limited and won't compensate you for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, disability, or loss of enjoyment of life. Some states allow policyholders to file a third-party claim when their injuries and damages exceed PIP limits or meet specific criteria. Michigan's laws are different regarding your right to recover damages from a third party.

Third-Party Lawsuits in Michigan

Michigan's no-fault laws limit third-party lawsuits to those plaintiffs who suffered severe injuries. If you want to pursue a claim for your non-economic damages, you can recover compensation for your entire claim if the accident left you with a disability or severe impairment. When you file a third-party claim for damages, you must prove negligence to receive any reimbursement. That is one reason why retaining the right Detroit personal injury lawyer is crucial.

Determining Fault in a Three-Car Accident in Michigan

Liability in a three-car accident could fall on any one of the drivers. There will likely be one driver who is primarily at fault for the accident and will bear the largest percentage of fault. However, if one or both of the other drivers also contributed to the collision in some way, then a jury or the court could assign a percentage of liability to them too.

In one scenario, the rear car might be primarily at fault. That vehicle rear-ends the vehicle in the middle, pushing that middle car into the front vehicle. Another scenario is that the middle vehicle rear-ends the front vehicle, and then the rear vehicle hits the middle vehicle.

There is a third possibility, although less likely. In some accidents, the front car may stop suddenly, causing a chain reaction. The percentage of liability will vary based on facts such as the reason for stopping, whether they have working brake lights, how close the middle car was following, etc. To determine liability, the insurance company or jury will assign a percentage of liability to each party. The percentage of fault determines who can collect damages.

Modified Comparative Negligence in Michigan

Depending on each vehicle's percentage of fault, not every driver is eligible to collect damages. Michigan follows the legal theory of modified comparative negligence with a 51% bar. That means if you are deemed 51% at fault or more, you cannot collect any compensation for your damages. If you are 50% at fault or less, you could collect a percentage of your damages. For example, if you are 30% at fault, then you could collect up to 70% of your damages. If you are 55% at fault, you will receive nothing.

Because of comparative negligence, insurance adjusters will do whatever possible to assign a higher percentage of liability to the plaintiff or other defendants to avoid paying out. Your Detroit car accident attorney will protect your rights and fight to ensure you are not taken advantage of by the other parties.

Importance of an Independent Investigation in a Three-Car Accident

Determining negligence in an accident with three or more vehicles can be challenging. When you hire a Detroit car accident lawyer at Goodman Acker, P.C., we will conduct a thorough investigation to help build your case. That might require interviewing witnesses, conducting a scene investigation, gathering all documents and evidence, and even hiring experts.

Hiring an accident reconstructionist can provide some of the best insight into what really happened in a multi-car collision. An accident reconstructionist has special training and qualifications to ensure an accurate recreation of the accident after examining all the facts.

Many accident reconstructionists have a background in science or engineering. Some may be ex-law enforcement officers with special training.

Depending on the circumstances, an accident reconstruction will:

  • Evaluate the physics of the accident scene.

  • Calculate vehicle speeds and movements.

  • Determine the sequence of collisions.

  • Determine the positions of each vehicle.

  • Establish who was wearing their seatbelt.

If the three-car accident involves questions of speed, traffic violations, collision severity, the order of impact, etc., your claim could benefit from hiring an accident reconstructionist. If it's clear who caused the sequence of crashes, then it's not necessary to hire an expert.

Potential Damages You Can Recover in a Michigan Auto Accident

If you are eligible to file a third-party claim, then you have the right to ask for reimbursement for all your damages. Those damages include:

  • Medical expenses to date.

  • Future medical expenses.

  • Lost wages to date.

  • Loss of earning capacity.

  • Physical pain and suffering.

  • Emotional distress and mental trauma.

  • Property damage.

  • Disability or permanent disfigurement.

  • Loss of enjoyment of life.

Depending on how severe your injuries are, you may have a significant amount of damages that exceed your own first-party coverage. It's crucial to have a Detroit car accident lawyer evaluate your case and advise you on the options you have to recover the outstanding losses in these situations.

Contact a Michigan Auto Accident Attorney Today

Determining fault in a three-car collision is typically complicated. You should be focused on your recovery and getting back to work rather than being stressed and trying to pursue a third-party injury claim. To learn more about how our Detroit auto accident lawyers can help, contact Goodman Acker, P.C., online today, or call us at 248-617-0921 to schedule an initial consultation.