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What is the Doctrine of Modified Comparative Fault in Michigan?

Thirty-three states recognize the Modified Comparative Fault System in medical negligence cases, including Michigan. However, the system does cause confusion for juries and complications when multiple at-fault defendants are involved in a single case. Malpractice lawyers in Michigan can advise you on the merits of your case.

Modified Comparative Fault

Most states follow the comparative fault model, which is split into two different categories:

  • The 50% bar rule
  • The 51% bar

Twelve states follow the 50% bar rule, including Arkansas and Idaho, which means that if you are 50% or more responsible for an accident, you cannot claim damages.

Twenty-one states, including Michigan, follow the 51% bar rule, which means that if you are 51% at fault for an accident, you are unable to file for damages. However, victims of medical malpractice can recover monetary compensation if they are less than 51% responsible for a health condition caused by negligence.

Let’s say you became ill after taking medication that has been prescribed by your doctor. A court might find that your sickness was a combination of an allergy specified in your medical record and food or drink that you consume, against your doctor’s advice, while on the medication.

The court concludes that the doctor should never have given you the medication, assigning 50% of the blame to them. However, 50% of the blame is assigned to you because you consumed food or drink that your doctor advised you not to.

In this scenario, because your portion of the blame is less than 51%, you can recover some damages. If the court awards $50,000 in damages you could claim $25,000

If you’re named as a defendant in a medical malpractice case, the defense of modified comparative law can be used under Michigan state law. This allows for damage awards to be reduced in proportion to the percentage of responsibility assigned by a court.

The majority of medical negligence cases tend to settle out of court, through insurance companies, before they go to the litigation trial stage.

However, should your case go to trial and your Michigan medical malpractice lawyer successfully proves the negligence of healthcare professionals, such as doctors and nurses, during your health care, there’s a cap on the damages you will receive.

Where malpractice occurs that results in a personal injury, the wrongful death of a family member, birth injuries and more, the doctrine of Modified Comparative Fault will reduce the amount of damages that can be claimed from a defendant for personal injury, based on the plaintiff’s percentage of fault in the case.

Economic damage is reduced by the percentage of comparative fault of the plaintiff, and non-economic damages shall not be awarded. Sometimes, a plaintiff’s negligence contributed to the injuries or damage suffered. The courts will then determine the plaintiff’s negligence against the defendant’s negligence and reduce awards accordingly.

Contributory vs. Comparative Negligence Rule

In Contributory Negligence doctrine, any contribution to the damages by the plaintiff’s, bar them from claiming any damages, no matter how small their part. This rule is used in five states.

There are three variations to the Comparative Negligence Rule:

  • Pure Comparative Negligence – the plaintiff can recover even if he is mostly at fault, and it is used in 12 states.
  • Modified Comparative Negligence 51% bar rule – a plaintiff can recover if their contributory negligence is equal to or less than the defendant’s, used in 22 states.
  • Modified Comparative Negligence 50% bar rule – the plaintiff can only recover if their negligence is less than the defendant’s.

Modified Contributory Negligence in Michigan

Michigan used to follow Contributory Negligence, where you were unable to claim for any damage or injuries if you were partly to blame but has since adopted Modified Contributory Negligence.

The doctrine is described in the Michigan Compiled Laws, Chapter 600: Chapter 29, Section 600.2959 (Comparative Fault). Contributions among tortfeasors are described in Sections 600.2925a, 600.2925b, and 600.2925c.

Now that Michigan is using comparative fault, the plaintiff’s claim is reduced proportionally, based on the percentage of their contribution to fault. For economic damages they use Pure Contributory Negligence, i.e. a plaintiff can still claim a proportion of the damages even if they are 99% at fault for an injury.

However, if a contribution to fault is greater than 5o%, a plaintiff is barred from claiming non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, or mental distress.

For example, if you were injured in an accident, and accumulated economic damages totaling $100,000, and believe you are due another $80,000 in non-economic damages, you will have to prove that you were not at fault for the accident.

If a road traffic accident, for example, results in an injury caused by a defendant running a red light, but you were speeding and not watching the intersection for oncoming cars, you are partly at fault, as you were breaking the law at the time of the accident with excessive speed.

If your contributory fault is found to be 20%, your damages will be reduced by that percentage, so you will only be able to claim $80,000 economic and $64,000 for non-economic damages.

However, say you were driving at 65 mph in a 35 mph zone, which is a more serious offense, and if your contributory fault is calculated at 60%, your economic damages claim will be reduced to $40,000, and you will be barred from claiming any noneconomic damages.

Medical Malpractice Recovery Caps

If your medical malpractice attorney secures a successful outcome for your claim against the medical professionals involved in your health care, you will be awarded damages. Michigan state law has different categories for the type of damage awards available, including:

  • Compensatory Damages – These are awarded to help you return to a similar financial position prior to your injury occurring. Compensatory damages are split into two subcategories; General Damages and Special Damages.
  • General Damages – Consider a defendant’s conduct that resulted in your injury. General damages tend to be awarded disfigurement or physical impairment, mental and emotional trauma, pain and suffering, or a lower quality of life as a result of medical negligence.
  • Special Damages – Compensate you for financial losses linked specifically to a defendant’s actions. Special damages can include the cost of surgery being covered, lost wages being reimbursed, covering reduced earning capacity, and any past or future medical bills.

Under Michigan state law, you’re unable to push for Punitive Damages, which seek to punish a defendant personally. However, there is a law that allows you to file for exemplary damages for mental trauma attributed to a sense of humiliation, indignity, or insult toward your feelings.

Under Michigan state law, the amount that is awarded for general damages is capped at $280,000, unless the person injured as a result of medical negligence becomes hemiplegic, paraplegic, or quadriplegic resulting in a total permanent functional loss of one or more limbs caused by:

  • A brain injury
  • An injury to the spinal cord
  • Cognitive capacity impairment, leaving the victim unable to make independent choices or perform the activities associated with daily living
  • Loss or damage to reproductive organs

In these circumstances, the maximum damages awarded is $500,000

Legal Advice Advised

In any medical malpractice case, it’s advised that you seek legal advice as the law can be highly complex and requires careful navigation to achieve a successful outcome.

Choose Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. for Medical Malpractice Claims

If there is any doubt about your role in contributing to negligence, contact Cochran, Kroll, & Associates, P.C. for legal advice and support. We build attorney-client relationships based on trust to achieve the best possible outcome for your case. Call our law firm at (866) 868-3779 for a free consultation to get your malpractice claim started.

Oscar Harris is a professional legal blogger who writes about medical malpractice laws to raise awareness of the rights of those who have been injured personally or those who have lost a family member due to medical malpractice.

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