Automobile Accidents

Automobile Accidents


auto-accidentAt West Michigan Injury Lawyers, PC we use our experience in handling accident cases to investigate every possible contributing cause of an accident to ensure that you will receive full compensation for your injuries. Evaluating all of the facts involved in the cause of a motor vehicle accident requires skill and experience.

Our office will take over the investigation of your case so that you can concentrate on recovering from your injuries. We can assist you in finding an appropriate medical specialist to treat you, and we can make arrangements with your medical care providers to wait for payment until your case is resolved through settlement or trial.

Every year millions of people are injured in motor vehicle accidents — many very seriously. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, someone in the United States is killed in a car accident every 16 minutes. In 2010, there were an estimated 5,419,000 vehicles involved in police-reported traffic crashes, in which 32,885 people were killed and another 2.25 million people were injured. Other disturbing statistics are as follows:

Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of injury and death in the United States for people ages 11 to 27.
Motor vehicle crashes took the lives of 1,210 children (ages 14 and under) and 4,585 teenagers (ages 15 to 20) in 2010. Older adults (over 65) continue to be a high-risk age group for motor vehicle fatalities.
In the United States, 4,280 pedestrians died from traffic-related injuries and another 70,000 pedestrians sustained non-fatal injuries in 2010.
In 2010, 31% of traffic fatalities involved alcohol impaired drivers, which means at least one driver in the crash had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of at least 0.08 gram per deciliter (g/dl).

At West Michigan Injury Lawyers, P.C. we use our experience in handling accident cases to investigate every possible contributing cause of an accident to ensure that you will receive full compensation for your injuries. Evaluating all of the facts involved in the cause of a motor vehicle accident requires skill and experience. Our office will take over the investigation of your case so that you can concentrate on recovering from your injuries. We can assist you in finding an appropriate medical specialist to treat you, and we can make arrangements with your medical care providers to wait for payment until your case is resolved through settlement or trial.

Automobile accidents are generally decided using the law of negligence. A person who negligently operates a vehicle may be required to pay any damages caused by their negligence, either to person or property. Generally, people who operate automobiles must exercise “reasonable care under the circumstances.” Failure to use reasonable care is the basis in most lawsuits for damages caused by an automobile accident.

Courts look to a number of factors in determining whether a driver was negligent. Some examples of these factors include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Driving too fast or too slow
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Failing to signal while turning
  • Disregarding weather or traffic conditions
  • Disobeying traffic signs or signals
  • Failing to drive on the right side of the road

A driver may also be liable for an accident caused by intentional or reckless conduct. A driver who is reckless is one who drives unsafely, with willful and wanton disregard for the probability that the driving may cause an accident.

In certain cases, accidents are caused by factors unrelated to the conduct of any particular driver. For example, under the law of product liability, an automobile manufacturer or supplier may be responsible for injuries caused by a defect in the automobile, or a component of the automobile, as in the Firestone tire litigation. A products liability suit is a lawsuit brought against the seller of a product for selling a defective product that caused physical injury to a consumer or user. If a manufacturer of a product creates a defective product — either in developing, designing or labeling the product — the manufacturer is liable for any injures the product causes, regardless of whether or not the manufacturer was negligent.

In another example, if a mechanic fails to properly repair a vehicle, and the failure causes an accident, the person who improperly repaired the automobile, and the repair shop, may be liable for injuries sustained. Other factors such as poorly maintained roads and malfunctioning traffic control signals can contribute to the cause. Improper design, maintenance, construction, signage, lighting or other highway defect, as well as improper striping on the road’s passing lanes, a sharp obstruction or problem with the roadway that limits the drivers’ vision, or poorly placed trees and utility poles can also cause serious accidents. Finally, if an accident is caused by an intoxicated driver, a bar or social host may be liable for damages sustained if they served an obviously intoxicated guest, who then drives and causes an accident.

In 2010, there were nearly 5.5 million police-reported traffic crashes, in which 32,885 people were killed and 2.25 million people were injured. Accidents are usually caused by the negligence of one or more drivers, however other factors such as poorly maintained roads and malfunctioning traffic control signals can contribute to the cause. Improper design, maintenance, construction, signage, lighting or other highway defect, as well as improper striping on the road’s passing lanes, a sharp obstruction or problem with the roadway that obstructs drivers’ vision, or poorly placed trees and utility poles can also cause serious accidents. In other cases, such as the Toyota recall litigation, vehicles and/or their component parts may be defectively designed or manufactured, causing serious injury.

At West Michigan Injury Lawyers, P.C., we use our experience in handling accident cases to investigate every possible contributing cause of an accident to ensure that you will receive full compensation for your injuries. Evaluating all of the facts involved in the cause of a motor vehicle accident requires skill and experience. Our office will take over the investigation of your case so that you can concentrate on recovering from your injuries. We can assist you in finding an appropriate medical specialist to treat you, and we can make arrangements with your medical care providers to wait for payment until your case is resolved through settlement or trial.

Can I control whether my car is repaired or replaced?

This can be a difficult issue. For most people, getting back into their own vehicle, so long as it is safe, is a priority. Normally, the insurance company has the option to either repair or replace your vehicle, depending on whether it costs less to replace your vehicle than to repair it. If this is the case, the insurance company will declare your vehicle a “total loss,” and take action to replace your vehicle. If your car is declared a “total loss,” the insurance company buys your car for its market value (see below), which can be difficult to determine. If you wish to keep the wrecked car, you may purchase it back from the insurance company for its salvage value. The insurance adjuster can deduct the salvage value from the settlement and you can keep the car.

Often the situation is reversed, and the insurance company chooses to repair a vehicle rather than replace it. In this case, if you are concerned about the safety of the repaired vehicle, you should contact our office to discuss your options.

How is the market value of my car determined?

You are entitled to recover the “fair market value” or the “actual cash value” of your vehicle immediately before the accident. One common source used to estimate fair market value is the Kelley Blue Book. Other sources of information are the local newspaper or the Auto Trader, which may list the for-sale price of cars of the same make, model, and year as yours. Occasionally, an expert vehicle appraiser is used to help prove the value of your vehicle.

What if I am “upside down” on the loan for my car?

If you owe more money on the loan for the car than the fair market value of the car, you are “upside down” on the loan. Unfortunately, if your vehicle is a total loss, the insurance company is not required to pay more money to you simply because you are “upside down” with your car loan. They are only obligated to pay the “fair market value” of your car.

Can I choose my own repair shop?

Yes. You always have the right to decide who will repair your vehicle, however the cost of the repair is not always determined by the estimate given by the repair facility of your choosing.

What kind of parts will be used in the repair?

You have the right to demand that only original manufacturer parts be used in the repair, so if your car is a Pontiac, you should receive genuine Pontiac (GM) parts. Since your car was probably not new at the time of the accident, however, the mechanic may use refurbished or reconditioned parts.

What if my car already had some damage before the accident?

If your vehicle had damage to it prior to the accident, it can be difficult to determine exactly what portion of the damage was caused by the accident itself. For example, if your car has a mechanical problem, the insurance company may claim that it existed prior to the accident if some evidence indicates that there was substantial wear and tear. Therefore, it is important that you prove the connection between the auto accident and the damage you are claiming. Ordinarily, mechanics and collision repair personnel can help to prove the age of body damage or the cause of a mechanical failure. They can assist to convince the insurance company that the auto accident caused the damage you are claiming.

Will I have to pay the towing and storage costs?

In most cases, unless there is a dispute as to who was at fault in the accident, the insurance company for the driver who caused the accident will pay the reasonable towing and storage costs (if necessary) of your car. After evaluating the vehicle, if the insurance company declares the car a total loss, they will have the car moved to a wrecking yard or a free storage area. If you refuse to allow the insurance company to move your car, however, you will have to pay the storage costs from the day of your refusal forward, or you can pay to have it towed to your home.

What about license and registration fees that I had to pay to drive the car?

In order to drive your vehicle, you had to pay a tag fee and registration fees. In some states, you are entitled to be reimbursed for the prorated amount of these costs that are unused. The insurance company may reimburse you for tag transfer fees and, in some cases, a prorated amount of sales tax on the actual cash value of the car at the time of the accident. Contact an auto accident lawyer to learn whether license and registration fees are recoverable in your case.

What if I need a rental car? Do I have to pay for it while my car is being repaired?

If you caused the accident, or if there is a dispute over who is to blame, then you must either pay for the rental car yourself or seek coverage under your own insurance policy if rental coverage is available. Many insurance contracts do not provide for rental coverage for their own customers, so you need to contact your insurance agent to determine what coverage exists. If the other driver is at fault, then we will demand that the insurance company for the person who caused the accident provide you with a rental car for the time needed to repair your vehicle. Sometimes, you must pay the rental car bill first, with reimbursement coming from the insurance company later.

What kind of rental car am I entitled to?

The insurance company has to pay for the reasonably incurred rental cost of a substitute vehicle. Often, there are disputes as to what qualifies as a “substitute” vehicle. Essentially, it should be a vehicle of similar quality, within the confines of what is available for rent.

Should I purchase any extra insurance on the rental car provided to me?

Your own insurance policy should cover you while driving the rental car, but you should call your insurance agent to be sure that you are covered. The other driver’s insurance company is not required to pay for additional insurance if you choose to purchase it from the car rental company.

Automobile insurance laws in Michigan require the owner of a vehicle to have a certain amount of liability insurance on the vehicle. M.C.L. § 500.3009. Liability insurance provides compensation to another person in the event that you cause an accident and are found to be liable to that person for damages. Michigan law requires a minimum of $20,000 in insurance coverage for bodily injury to or death of one person in a single accident, and a minimum of $40,000.00 in coverage for bodily injury to or death of two or more persons in a single accident. M.C.L. § 500.3009(1). Purchasing liability insurance in excess of the statutory minimum offers an insured greater protection in the event he or she must pay damages that exceed the minimum coverage amount.

When West Michigan Injury Lawyers, P.C. represents a person who is injured in an accident, one of the first things we do is investigate all applicable insurance coverage. There are two categories of auto insurance – first party coverage and third party coverage. First party coverage covers you and your property against costs arising from such things as medical treatment, damage to your vehicle, and legal representation in the event that you are sued. Third party coverage insures against liability arising from your actions in causing injury to others. The coverage and its exclusions are set forth in the insurance policy you purchased. In exchange for the payment of a premium, the insurance company promises to provide compensation in the event of certain occurrences. Though a full recitation of the coverage available and the applicable insurance law would require several large text volumes, the following is brief synopsis of the most common types of coverage and the Michigan laws that dictate that coverage.

Liability Insurance

As stated, liability insurance is required by law. M.C.L. § 500.3009. The liability insurance policy provides for the insured’s defense and settlement of automobile negligence claims brought against the insured. The policy will also dictate the payment of judgments relating to automobile negligence that are rendered against the insured. If you are injured by the negligence of another driver, we will make a claim under the bodily injury liability coverage of the negligent driver’s insurance policy. Liability coverage is not health insurance, and it is not designed to pay for your medical bills as they are incurred. It is designed for a one time settlement or payment for all of your damages. Liability insurance minimums required by law in Michigan are:

  • $25,000 for bodily injury or death of one person in any one accident.
  • $40,000 for bodily injury or death of two or more persons in one accident, not exceed the per-person limits above.
  • $10,000 for injury to or harm to property of others in one accident. M.C.L. § 500.3009(1).

Lawsuits in Michigan must be filed against the negligent driver. The driver’s insurance carrier may not be named as a defendant. In fact, the jury is not allowed to know that there is insurance coverage available to the defendant. If the jury renders a verdict in excess of the defendant’s liability policy limit, the defendant is then personally liable out of his or her own assets for the additional amount. M.C.L. § 500.3030.

No-Fault Insurance Coverage

Michigan insurance law provides for “no-fault” automobile insurance. M.C.L. § 500.3105. With no-fault insurance, the cost of your medical expenses, lost wages (ordinarily awarded in the amount of a percentage of your pre-accident gross wages), and post-accident rehabilitation will ordinarily be paid by your own no-fault policy, or that of the owner of the car in which you were riding. In order for an injured party to recover any excess damages, such as lost wages above what the no-fault policy pays, it may be necessary to bring suit against the other driver who caused the accident.

If you choose not to elect comprehensive and collision insurance, your ability to recover for vehicle damage from the other driver will be limited to $500. M.C.L. § 500.3135(3)(e). You may also be able to recover from the other driver if your your car was legally parked at the time it was damaged (assuming you can identify the responsible party).

Medical Payments (Med-Pay) Coverage

When purchasing automobile insurance for yourself, you may seek to include several additional types of coverage other than liability insurance. One of these types of coverage is called medical payments coverage, which is not required by Michigan law. M.C.L. § 500.3009.

Medical payments coverage is a form of health coverage referred to by various terms, including “med-pay,” “personal injury protection (PIP),” or on occasion “economic loss protection benefits.” This coverage is available to the insured driver (the individual who holds the policy that includes med-pay coverage) and any passengers in the insured’s vehicle for injuries sustained, regardless of the fault of the driver. It is important to note that the insurance policy of the negligent party does not pay med-pay or PIP benefits to an injured plaintiff. These benefits are limited to the driver or passengers in the insured vehicle, regardless of fault. The plaintiff looks to his or her own insurance policy or the policy on the vehicle in which he or she was a passenger for med-pay or PIP benefits.

The amount of med-pay benefits that may be paid to any individual is determined by reference to the policy limit for this particular type of coverage, as stated in the insurance policy declarations sheet for the person who purchased the coverage.

Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Benefits

Two other related types of voluntary coverage you can (and should) purchase are uninsured and underinsured motorist benefits. These types of coverage protect you against a negligent defendant who illegally does not have liability insurance coverage or has minimum coverage that is inadequate to fully compensate you for your injuries. If you are involved in an accident with an uninsured individual, we would make a claim for you under your own uninsured motorist coverage. Your own insurance carrier would then have to pay any judgment which may be rendered, up to the limits of the policy you purchased.

If the person who caused the accident has liability insurance, but the policy limit of his or her liability insurance is less than the uninsured motorist coverage of your policy, we can make an additional claim under your own policy for what is called underinsured motorist benefits, in the event that your damages exceed the limits of the other party’s liability coverage. A complicated body of case law has evolved dealing with this type of benefit, and the experience of an attorney familiar with these issues is important in order to obtain the maximum amount of recovery for you.

Collision Coverage

Collision coverage is a type of voluntary coverage you can purchase that provides for the repair or replacement of your own vehicle after an accident, regardless of whether or not you are at fault. This is different than property liability insurance coverage discussed above. An innocent victim of an accident may present a claim for the property damage under his or her own collision coverage or under the negligent defendant’s property damage liability insurance coverage. Your own collision coverage normally includes a deductible, whereas property damage liability insurance coverage does not. In an automobile accident case, after a claim has been paid under collision coverage, the insurance carrier who paid the claim may proceed against the property damage liability insurance carrier for the negligent defendant to recover the amount paid out. This process is called subrogation and does not affect your recovery.

If you’re a passenger in a vehicle involved in an accident, and you have sustained injury as a result, you are entitled to receive compensation for your injuries. As a passenger, you may have a claim against both the driver of the vehicle in which you were riding as well as the drivers of any other vehicles (or any other negligent party) involved in the collision.

A passenger is generally not considered to be at fault or partially at fault in an auto accident unless he or she does something that specifically causes the accident such as distract the driver. If you have been injured as a passenger in a vehicle involved in a collision, West Michigan Injury Lawyers, P.C. can help you get monetary compensation for your injuries.

Crossing the street can be dangerous, even if you look both ways. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 4,280 pedestrians died in 2010. Many thousands more were seriously injured. Pedestrian deaths accounted for 13 percent of all traffic fatalities, and made up 3 percent of all the people injured in traffic crashes.

Determining who is negligent in pedestrian cases can be tricky. Many factors must be taken into account: Were you paying attention to traffic when you crossed?. Were you jaywalking or crossing in a designated crosswalk? Did the car run a red light? If possible, you should try to identify witnesses who can verify your account of the accident.

In general, pedestrians have the right of way, unless they cross the street in non-designated areas or against crossing signals. M.C.L. § 257.613(2)(a). If a child is injured running into the street, and if there is a school or playground nearby, West Michigan Injury Lawyers, P.C. may be able to prove that the driver should have been aware that children were in the area. This can be used to show the driver wasn’t taking proper precautions to avoid the accident. In addition, it may be possible to show that the child wasn’t properly supervised or that adequate crossing assistance was not provided.

A third party can also be responsible in pedestrian accidents. If a crossing signal or traffic light malfunctioned, for example, it may be possible to hold the municipality responsible for failing to adequately maintain or repair the light.
Pedestrian Injury Data

  • In 2010 in the United States, 4,280 pedestrians died from traffic-related injuries and another 70,000 pedestrians sustained non-fatal injuries.
  • Pedestrian fatalities are the second-leading cause of motor vehicle-related deaths, following occupant fatalities. Pedestrian-related fatalities account for about 13% of all motor vehicle-related deaths.
  • On average, one pedestrian in the United States is killed in a traffic crash every 2 hours, and one pedestrian is injured every 8 minutes.
  • The situation is improving. The rate of pedestriant deaths decreased a decreased 13 percent over the ten-year period from 2001 to 2011. Factors contributing to this decrease may include more and better sidewalks, pedestrian paths, playgrounds away from streets, one-way traffic flow, and restricted on-street parking. Some of the reduction is likely due to the decreasing amount of time Americans spend walking.
  • Alcohol is a major factor in adult pedestrian deaths. Of the pedestrians involved, 33 percent had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of .08 grams per deciliter (g/dL) or higher. Of the drivers involved in these fatal crashes, only 14 percent had a BAC of .08 g/dL or higher, less than two-fifths the rate for the pedestrians.
  • Alcohol involvement — either for the driver or for the pedestrian — was reported in 47 percent of the traffic crashes that resulted in pedestrian fatalities.
  • Children are at risk for pedestrian injuries and fatalities. In 2010, almost one-fifth (19%) of all children between the ages of 5 and 9 who were killed in traffic crashes were pedestrians. Children age 15 and younger accounted for 7 percent of the pedestrian fatalities in 2010 and 23 percent of all pedestrians injured in traffic crashes.
  • Older pedestrians (age 65+) accounted for 19 percent (826) of all pedestrian fatalities and an estimated 11 percent (8,000) of all pedestrians injured in 2010. In 2010, the fatality rate for older pedestrians (age 65+) was 2.04 per 100,000 population – higher than the rate for all the other ages.
  • More than two-thirds (69%) of the pedestrians killed in 2010 were males. In 2010, the male pedestrian fatality rate per 100,000 population was 1.94 — more than double the rate for females (0.85 per 100,000 population).
  • Nearly one-half (48%) of all pedestrian fatalities occurred on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday (16%, 17%, and 15%, respectively).
  • In 2010, thirty percent of the pedestrian fatalities occurred in crashes between 8 p.m. and 11:59 p.m.

Should I call the police?

Yes! It is important to contact the police immediately if you are involved in an accident. Doing so will provide proof of the accident, and will allow for an immediate investigation of the scene of the accident. In addition, police will take statements of witnesses, and will examine the other driver to check for drug or alcohol use. The police can also be valuable witnesses to your injury at the scene, and they can assist in securing an admission of fault from the negligent driver.

Even in minor accidents, resist the temptation to “keep things simple” by “settling up” with the other driver on the spot. You should make sure that you have not suffered injuries which do not develop symptoms until days or even weeks after the accident, and you should always consult with your doctor and an experienced attorney to make sure that you are aware of all of the avenues of recovery available to you.

When should I contact an attorney?

After leaving the scene of an accident, or while still there if you are safely able, you should immediately contact an attorney who is experienced in handling personal injury matters. At Fielstra Shibley, P.C., we will promptly arrange for an attorney to consult with you free of charge so as to enable us to immediately take action on your behalf, while all of the evidence is still “fresh”. If necessary and feasible, we will have an investigator conduct a thorough analysis of the accident scene so that no evidence goes undetected.

Contact West Michigan Injury Lawyers, P.C. at (231) 725-8444 for a FREE CONSULTATION so we can discuss your case.

Should I contact my own insurance company?

Most auto insurance companies require their policyholders to promptly report every auto accident. Your insurance company will want to gather all of the basic information concerning the accident for its records – whether you are at fault or not. Sometimes the insurance company will want your authorization to make a recorded statement concerning the accident. We suggest that if you or your passengers were injured in the accident, or if you believe the insurance company might try to claim you are not covered or you have any concerns about the adequacy of your coverage, you should contact an attorney before you go any further, and certainly before you give the insurance company permission to record your conversation (NOTE: You should never give a statement to the other driver’s insurance company without consulting with an attorney). However, bear in mind that failure to provide information to your insurance company on a timely basis — your policy will set forth how quickly you must notify the company — could result in loss of coverage for the accident, without it constituting bad faith by the insurer.

Should I go to the doctor?

Never hesitate to get checked out by medical professionals even when you feel okay. Many times the onset of physical complaints begins 12 to 24 hours after an accident. Even if you did walk away only feeling “shaken up” after being rear-ended by a truck, tomorrow morning when you get out of bed it may be a different story.

It is also important that you get medical attention if you feel any pain or discomfort. Many people hope that their pain will go away on its own and wait for several weeks before finally succumbing and going to the doctor. Waiting to get treatment is not only not good for your health — it will hurt your chances of obtaining an appropriate settlement for your injuries, since there will be no medical record of your injury at the time of the accident. Seeing a doctor following the accident will insure a preliminary diagnosis and perhaps minimize the discomfort and future treatment you may need later.

Follow the doctor’s advice to the letter and never miss a doctor’s appointment. Do not substitute your judgment for that of an experienced medical professional. If you do, it will be used against you in court.

If you have been in a serious accident, chances are that someone has already made a record of what has happened to you. There already is a police report, an on-the-job worker’s compensation report, or the like. If your condition required immediate medical care, hospital records will confirm your injuries. Make sure you promptly follow-up with treatment from your regular doctor or an appropriate specialist following hospitalization.

Is there anything special I should tell my doctors?

When you are reporting your injury to police, paramedics, hospital staff, and doctors, take extra care to identify specific complaints, and do not omit any complaint you may have, no matter how minor. If something does not feel “right” your doctor needs to have this information order to render an informed medical opinion.

Even if you feel it is “no big thing” or not related to your accident, you still should recite all of your complaints. A dry mouth, a light headache, and a little dizziness may be evidence of something more serious. Anything that is out of the ordinary is a symptom and should be reported to assist your doctor in making an informed diagnosis.

For example, a patient who has very slight tingling in the fourth and fifth fingers and a minor crick in the neck, may not report the tingling sensation, which could be the sign of major disruption to a cervical disk. If that disk becomes a complete rupture that requires major surgery, it would have been far better to have had the initial medical diagnosis at the time of the accident in order to prove when the onset of the fracture to the outer wall of the disk occurred. Otherwise, the defense will argue that it could just have well occurred picking up a bag of groceries three weeks after the accident.

Do I need to take pictures of the accident scene?

Absolutely. Even if the police take photos, you should try to take as many pictures as possible. Always take multiple rolls of film of the accident location, the vehicles involved, various approaches to the accident scene, and of the persons involved, particularly if they have suffered an injury. Plan on taking three times as many photographs as you think you might need, taking shots from multiple angles and locations. By moving around as if on the points of a compass, you will enable an accident reconstructionist to construct a more accurate diagram of the collision.

A good quality camera is obviously preferable, but even a small disposable camera is better than nothing, and they are normally widely available in convenience stores and gas stations if you do not have one in your vehicle.

If you are unable to take photographs, contact our office immediately at (231) 725-8444. At West Michigan Injury Lawyers, P.C., we work with investigators and other expert personnel who often can rush to the scene of any serious accident and preserve and document valuable evidence before it is lost.

Do I have to take photos right away or can I wait?

It is very important to take photos as close in time as possible to the time of the accident. This is particularly important when it is necessary to photograph “impending” skid marks. Tires do not immediately lock-up and change from rolling tires to skidding tires. During the braking process, a tire begins to leave an imprint on the roadway before actually skidding. These marks are “impending” skid marks and are faint marks that can normally be seen on the roadway for only 24 to 48 hours after a collision. An impending skid and a skid mark, when taken together, give a more accurate record of the actual speed of a car before braking. Lay a shoe or other easily measured item next to impending skid marks while photographing them so an accident reconstructionist can later compute actual distances based on the photographs.

If you are unable to take photographs, contact our office immediately at (231) 725-8444. At West Michigan Injury Lawyers, P.C., we work with investigators and other expert personnel who often can rush to the scene of any serious accident and preserve and document valuable evidence before it is lost.

What about preserving other evidence besides photos?

In many cases, even though it may not seem important at the time, it later becomes vitally important to have access to the physical evidence of an accident. For example, in cases where a passenger is ejected from the vehicle, it is necessary to examine the seatbelt to determine if it was functioning properly. If the seatbelt is lost because the car which contains it is sold or destroyed, it may be impossible to bring a claim against the seatbelt manufacturer and/or the car manufacturer — something which can make or break the recovery of damages in cases where there is little or no other adequate insurance coverage available.

If the evidence is removed to another location, it is important to put everyone on notice by certified mail, including owners, tow operators, wrecking yards, police impounds, and the like, that they must take every step to preserve important evidence, and the failure to do so will subject them to being sued for allowing evidence to be destroyed. In some cases, we are required to go to court quickly to get a restraining order and preliminary injunction in order to avoid alterations or destructive handling and testing of potentially incriminating evidence.

If you are unable to retain any piece of evidence associated with the accident, contact our office immediately at (231) 725-8444. At West Michigan Injury Lawyers, P.C., we work with investigators and other expert personnel who often can rush to the scene of any serious accident and preserve and document valuable evidence before it is lost.

Should I talk to the other driver’s insurance company? What if they call me?

Never give an oral statement to the other side’s insurance company. If you do, you will regret it. If you are contacted, be polite, but decline to talk. Insurance companies’ claims adjusters are professional negotiators, with extensive experience in using every psychological technique to maneuver you into giving information which can hurt your claim, including discouraging you from using the professional services of a lawyer.

Claims adjusters are hired because they sound good over the telephone, but they are well trained by insurance company lawyers to ask questions in a manner designed to hurt you and help them. You cannot beat the experts at their own game. Do not try it. Simply say, “Thank you for calling, but I am not prepared to discuss this matter with you at this time.”

Michigan has enacted laws requiring drivers and front-seat passengers to wear seatbelts. M.C.L. § 257.710(e). If you are injured in an accident but you were not wearing your seatbelt at the time of the collision, insurance companies and their defense lawyers will attempt to argue that you would not have been injured – either not at all or significantly less so – if you were properly buckled in. In making this argument, the defense seeks to prove that you were “comparatively negligent” in causing the injuries that were suffered during an accident. To use this defense, however, the other driver’s insurance company must prove that your unbuckled seatbelt contributed to, or was a cause of, your injuries. In Michigan, if failure to wear a seat belt is determined to constitute comparative negligence, the damages may not be reduced by more than 5 percent. M.C.L. § 257.710(e).

Many cases arise where serious damages are suffered by an accident victim who is not wearing a seatbelt. In some of these cases, a person is ejected altogether from the vehicle. At West Michigan Injury Lawyers, P.C., we seek every means available when appropriate to attempt to prove that your injuries were caused by the negligent driver, not by your own failure to wear a seatbelt. Working together with expert biomechanical engineers and accident reconstructionists, we are often able to demonstrate that serious injuries would have occurred even if a seatbelt was worn at the time of an accident. Knowing who to contact and how to go about proving the cause of injury in these difficult cases enables us to make a difference for our clients in need of substantial compensation for serious injuries. Of course, you should always use your seat belt for safety reasons as well as legal ones.

Speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic accidents in the United States. The economic cost to society of speeding-related crashes is estimated by the NHTSA to be $40.4 billion per year. In 2010, speeding was a contributing factor in 31% of fatal crashes, killing 10,395 people. At West Michigan Injury Lawyers, P.C., we use every means available to prove negligence on the part of a speeding driver in order to obtain the highest monetary reward for our clients. Under Michigan law, all motorists are required to drive at a speed that is reasonable or prudent. M.C.L. § 257.627(1).

Any speed in excess of the following speeds is evidence of unreasonable driving:

  • 25 mph approaching a school crossing
  • 25 mph in a business or residential district
  • 25 mph hour in public parks
  • 15 mph in a mobile home park
  • 55 mph when a passenger vehicle drawing another vehicle, which exceeds 250 pounds or is in excess of 26 feet
  • 55 mph for a truck weighing more than 10,000 pounds, a truck-tractor with a trailor, or a combination of these vehicles
  • 50 mph for school buses
  • 45 mph in a contruction zone, unless a lower speed is posted. M.C.L. § 257.627.

Speeding reduces a driver’s ability to steer safely around curves or objects in the roadway, extends the distance necessary to stop a vehicle, and increases the distance a vehicle travels while the driver reacts to a dangerous situation. For drivers involved in fatal crashes, young males are the most likely to be speeding. The relative proportion of speeding-related crashes to all crashes decreases with increasing driver age. In 2010, 39 percent of the male drivers in the 15 to 20 and 21 to 24 age groups who were involved in fatal crashes were speeding at the time of the crash. Further, alcohol and speeding seem to go hand in hand. In 2010, 42 percent of speeding drivers who were involved in fatal crashes were also intoxicated, with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 (grams per deciliter [g/dl]) or greater. In contrast, only 16 percent of the nonspeeding drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2010 were intoxicated. Alcohol and speeding are clearly a deadly combination.

In 2010, 35 percent of all motorcyclists involved in fatal crashes were speeding, compared to 23 percent for passenger car drivers, 19 percent for light-truck drivers, and 8 percent for large-truck drivers. In 2010, only 53 percent of speeding passenger vehicle drivers under 21 years old who were involved in fatal crashes were wearing safety belts at the time of the crash. In contrast, 75 percent of nonspeeding drivers in the same age group were restrained. For drivers 21 years and older, the percentage of speeding drivers involved in fatal crashes who were using restraints at the time of the crash was 47 percent, but 76 percent of nonspeeding drivers in fatal crashes were restrained.

The human body is ill-equipped to absorb certain types of impacts, particularly those caused by automobile collisions. The reason for this is physiological. The human head weighs roughly 10 – 15 pounds, and rests upon the most flexible and least reinforced part of the spine: the neck. Your neck contains 32 joints (among other muscle and ligaments) and is easily stretched and injured if too much force is applied in any direction. When the joints of the neck are stretched or strained beyond their normal limitations, they can lose their ability to return to their original length.

Automobiles, on the other hand, are heavy, solid objects weighing roughly two tons. These structures are designed to absorb impact and minimize energy transfer. However, the amount of force exerted when one automobile strikes another is equal to thousands of pounds. This tremendous force can cause extensive damage to the necks and spines of the vehicle’s occupants. The neck cannot support or control the weight of the head under such circumstances, and the head is forcefully thrust in the direction of the vehicle causing the impact. The sudden movement of the head, backwards, forwards or sideways, is referred to as whiplash. It is more accurately called cervical acceleration/deceleration (CAD) trauma or syndrome, which describes the rapid movements that can injure the vertebrae of the neck and the muscles and ligaments that support them.

As the muscles and other tissues within the neck stretch toward their physical limits, extreme tension builds and the muscles “snap” (or “whip”) with a violent spasm in the opposite direction. During this violent process, the soft discs between the spinal bones can stretch or tear, and vertebrae can be forced out of their normal position, reducing range of motion. The spinal cord and nerve roots in the neck can get stretched and become irritated. The result is injury to the muscles, ligaments, nerves (soft tissues) and joints within the neck. These injuries may then lead to headaches, dizziness, pain in the shoulders, arms and hands, reduced ability to turn and bend, and low back problems.

Bruising of the brain can also occur when a vehicle occupant experiences a severe case of whiplash. Bruising of the brain causes some victims to experience blurred vision, ringing in the ears, nausea and numbness.