Can I Collect Damages After a Minor Auto Accident?
With over six million accidents per year, it is likely that you may be involved in some three accidents over your lifetime, though of course, there is a chance that all of them will be minor. Over the course of 2018 in Michigan, there were a total of 312,798 traffic with 75,838 injuries caused. Though some of those accidents were serious, many more were only minor accidents with little in the way of damage or injuries caused.
But in the event of a minor fender, what action should you take, what are your legal rights, and are you able to file a claim?
What Should You Do After a Minor Car Accident?
There are certain procedures you should always follow after being involved in a minor fender bender.
- Injuries. The first thing to do is to check whether anyone has suffered any personal injuries. If any injuries need medical attention, call 911.
- Police report. You are required by Michigan state law to report any car accident that has resulted in any injuries – or deaths – or that has caused property damage of $1,000 or more. This does not necessarily have to mean that you call the police to attend the scene of the accident. You can choose to report the accident at the closest police station.
- Remain calm. Car accidents can bring out the worst in us and, especially when fault clearly lies with another driver, our tempers can flare. It is imperative that you stay calm after an accident. Losing your temper may only serve to cause a small fender bender incident to escalate.
- Information. When it comes to car accidents, Michigan is a no fault state. It is against the law to drive without holding a no fault insurance policy. The law and the insurance companies will always assume a clear 50-50 split in fault unless there is clear evidence to the contrary (for example, if one driver is found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol). In order to make any insurance claim a smoother process, always collect relevant information. Make sure you have all names and contact details of drivers involved in the accident as well as any witnesses or bystanders. Also collect details of the other driver’s insurance company.
- Evidence. Even if only for the car insurance company, collect as much evidence at the accident scene as you can. If you have a dashcam installed, that footage can be of major benefit. If you are able (if you are unable, then ask someone to do on your behalf), take photographs of the cars involved in situ before they are moved off the road. Take close ups of damage caused to your car and to others. If there were any other factors involved, such as weather conditions, obstructions on the road, or inadequate signage, then also take photographs of them.
- Move out of the way. As soon as possible, move any vehicles involved in the accident off the main road so they are not blocking traffic. The vehicles can be moved to the side or the road or into any adjacent parking lots.
Many people neglect to seek any medical attention after a minor collision. However, many injuries can result from even the most minor of collisions may manifest later, sometimes even weeks after the initial incident. Good examples of the type of injury this can include are whiplash and traumatic brain injury. With the latter, even the seemingly innocuous results of making an emergency stop may lead to serious trauma to the brain.
We advise that anyone who has been involved in an auto accident see a doctor as soon as possible after the collision. Of course, the primary reason for this is your health and well-being but it also helps to create an evidentiary paper trail in the event that you later suffer ill effects from the crash. When you later make any claim on your auto insurance, then you can clearly show you took appropriate steps.
Filing a Claim
In most cases, your no fault insurance (also called Personal Injury Protection insurance or PIP) will cover any medical bills and car repair expenses you incur. But sometimes that insurance may not cover all your expenses or there may be clear evidence that another driver bears most of the liability.
When that is the case, you will want to engage a personal injury attorney to pursue a claim on your behalf. In cases where the other driver was at fault, your auto negligence claim can seek to recover two types of damages that would not be covered by Personal Injury Protection insurance:
- Non-economic damages. This can cover any pain and suffering caused by the accident or any loss in the quality of your life.
- Excess losses. This may include certain expenses that you have incurred that are not covered by your PIP insurance.
Do I Have a Legitimate Claim?
The primary factor in the legitimacy of any claim that can be filed is proof of negligence. You must be able to show that the at fault driver acted negligently or irresponsibly and was to blame for the accident. Dash cam or CCTV footage often plays a big part in proving this and installing one in your vehicle is very advisable.
Where the other driver can be shown to have violated any part of the Michigan Motor Vehicle Code such as running a red light, using lanes improperly, or failing to stop, then they can be adjudged to have been negligent and possibly at fault for the accident.
Another aspect of Michigan state law to consider is the question of comparative fault. This means that even if a jury awards you damages, if they consider you were partly at fault too, then the amount of damages you actually receive will be reduced by the percentage of fault apportioned to you. If the victim is judged to have been more than 50% to blame, then they cannot claim for any non-economic losses.
This scenario serves as a good explanatory example:
Car A hits Car B. Dash cam footage shows that Car A went through a red light and the court awards $50,000 in damages. However, evidence shows that Car B was traveling slightly over the speed limit and the court decides that the driver of Car B was 20% at fault for the accident. Therefore the actual damages awarded are reduced to $40,000.
In order to file any claim, you also have to show that your injuries were serious enough to bring the claim. This threshold injury aspect means you have to show some serious impairment caused by the accident, permanent disfigurement, or death. This only applies to non-economic damages.
As far as claiming on your PIP insurance is concerned, most insurance companies require that a claim is submitted in a reasonable time. That usually means a few days or weeks at most.
For filing a claim for other damages where liability of the other driver is provable, the state required statute of limitations comes into effect. This says that any claim must be pursued within three years of the accident and injury occurring, or three years from the date of a death that resulted from injuries sustained in the accident.
In the overwhelming majority of minor auto accidents, any medical bills or car repair costs will be covered with your no fault insurance and there will likely be no need for you to hire a law firm. But if problems do arise with your insurance claim, or where there is obvious liability on the part of others, then you want a competent and experienced attorney fighting your case.
Cochran, Kroll & Associates, P.C. are specialists in all aspects of personal injury law including auto accident cases. We offer a free initial appointment that gives us the opportunity to evaluate your case and you an opportunity to ask any questions you may have. To schedule a complementary case evaluation, call our law office today at (866)-466-9912.