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Interstate 94 reopened after wreckage cleared from pile-up in Berrien County, Michigan
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Interstate 94 reopened after wreckage cleared from pile-up in Berrien County, Michigan

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Story First Appeared in Chicago Tribune

Latest Accident Occurs In One of Michigan’s Deadliest Highway Stretches Where 1-96 and I-94 Converge in Berrien County, Michigan.

State police and authorities from Michigan, Indiana and Illinois are investigating the cause of a multi-vehicle accident on I-94 east of State Road 49 near Chesterton, Indiana.

Interstate 94 was reopened two days after cranes and tow trucks worked through the wreckage to untangle a crush of more than 40 semi-trucks, pickup trucks, SUVs and cars that collided in near blizzard conditions near Michigan City, Indiana killing three people, including two people from Grand Rapids, Michigan and a man from Chicago, Illinois.

winter-truck-accident

Three people died and at least 20 were injured in the accident in late January, 2014. As many as 20 people were also injured in the traffic accident and many were airlifted to local hospitals.

Authorities called the accident scene “devastating.”  Troopers and firefighters scrambled in the dark and cold, searching for victims. Helicopters were called in to rush the most seriously injured to hospitals.

A Chicago man was pronounced dead at the scene, along with a husband and wife from Grand Rapids, Michigan. The couple was returning home to Kent County, Michigan after visiting a relative in Indiana.

The weekday accident occurred at 2 pm in the afternoon just east of State Road 49, about 60 miles from Chicago, as a burst of lake-effect snow cut visibility to about 10 feet, Indiana State Police said. Officials said there had been no plans to close that stretch of road because the white-out conditions developed suddenly. Eyewitness accounts said the road conditions went from sunshine and clear visibility to no visibility in seconds, so when drivers entered the zone, it turned into a rapidly occurring accident with crash after crash.

Several vehicles spun out and the traffic behind them was unable to stop in time. In all, 46 vehicles, including 18 semi-trucks, were involved in the crash. Several cars were crushed between the trucks and some slid underneath the 18 wheel tractor trailers.

Many drivers and witnesses told police that a line of brake lights suddenly appeared out of the snow and they did not have time to react before crashing. Drivers endured multiple collisions as cars, pickup trucks, crossovers and SUVs were struck by semi-trucks and many other vehicles.

Witnesses report that semis started sliding and one or two jackknifed in the middle of the road before colliding with other semi-trucks. Multiple semi-trucks locked up in one of the worst stretches of highway in the Tri-state area. The accident took place a few short miles from Berrien County, Michigan which has a long reputation as one of the worst stretches of highway in Michigan. The percentage of highway accidents where I-96 meets I-94 in Berrien County is one of the highest in Michigan.

If you or anyone that you know was injured in this accident or any Michigan traffic accident, call the Buchanan & Buchanan law firm in Grand Rapids. The Berrien County car accident lawyer professionals at the firm understand the frustration and stage full investigations into auto accidents to determine the cause of the car accident and who is responsibile for resulting injuries. Buchanan & Buchanan also has experienced Berrien County truck accident attorneys that can answer questions about semi-truck accidents. The Grand Rapids injury law firm offers an exclusive, No Fee Promise, If they don’t win, then you don’t pay.

If the firm cannot collect money for your injuries sustained in an accident, then you will not owe an attorney fee. Call for a free, confidential legal consultation 1-800-272-4080.

Navigating Through the Aftermath of an Unexpected Hospital Death

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The unexpected death of a loved one during hospital treatment or surgery is a difficult experience. This tragedy is often marked by both grief and confusion. You may want answers about your loved one’s death, wondering what went wrong and if someone was at fault. In the aftermath of this tragedy information is crucial; there are steps you should take and things you should do quickly to discover exactly what happened.

Common instances of medical negligence that result in unexpected hospital death. Roughly 195,000 people die in US hospitals every year because of preventable, in-hospital medical errors. In these situations, the medical provider does something that causes care to fall below an acceptable level. A medical provider may have done something or failed do something that caused the patient’s death. Common causes of unexpected patient death in the hospital because of medical negligence include:

Anoxia/Hypoxia: Anoxia/hypoxia is brain damage that occurs when the brain is deprived of adequate oxygen. When the brain does not get enough oxygen its cells begin to rapidly die. In as little as four minutes permanent brain damage can occur, and the injury can lead to unexpected death.

Accidental medication overdose or medication error: Medication is a valuable tool of medical care. When administered correctly, medication saves lives. Sometimes, however, medical staff may make a wrong choice or violate patient safety rules when administering medication to patients. They may give the patient the wrong medicine, or they may give the patient too much medicine causing an overdose. The consequences of such an action can be deadly.

Electrolyte imbalance: A proper balance of electrolytes, including potassium, chloride, phosphate, magnesium, calcium, and sodium, is necessary to maintain human life (i.e., homeostasis). Electrolytes are essential to both nerve and muscle function within the body. There are specific names for each kind of electrolyte imbalance. Hyponatremia is an electrolyte disturbance that causes a patient’s sodium levels to drop dramatically, while hypokalemia refers to a drop in potassium. No matter the type of imbalance, if a medical professional fails to recognize or overlooks symptoms of any kind of electrolyte imbalance the consequences can be fatal. An imbalance can cause congestive heart failure, liver failure, kidney failure, brain seizures, coma, or paralysis.

Surgical error: When a surgeon errs during surgery, it is a surgical error. Types of surgical errors include preforming surgery on the wrong part of the body, cutting a blood vessel or organ inadvertently, turning off or ignoring a warning alarm of equipment monitoring patient vitals, performing surgeries that are unnecessary, using surgery tools negligently, delaying surgery unnecessarily, and reckless decision making under pressure.

Failure to monitor: When a medical provider fails to properly respond to a patient’s serious symptom, this is failure to monitor. This may include failure to monitor a patient’s vital signs, failure to communicate an important change to a physician, failure to recognize and respond to signs of distress, etc.

Failure to diagnose: When a physician fails to appropriately identify and treat a medical condition, this is a failure to diagnose. A physician may fail to recognize the problem all together, or he or she may misidentify the problem and subsequently administer treatment that is inappropriate. Reasons for failure to diagnose include failing to recognize signs and symptoms of a problem, improperly conducting a physical exam, failing to perform appropriate tests and screenings, failing to pay attention to a reported abnormal test result, misinterpreting lab results or test results, or delaying the referral of a patient to a specialist.

Immediately bring in a medical examiner to investigateThe sooner you can bring in the medical examiner the better. A thorough investigation is necessary to collect and preserve evidence and get answers, especially when the hospital and health care providers are providing little information, if any at all. The medical examiner works for the state and comparable to a medical law enforcement officer; they come to perform an autopsy and determine the cause and manner of death to maintain civil and criminal justice and protect public health. They can also provide you, the next of kin, with answers to your questions about the death. However, a medical examiner autopsy is not automatic. A death must fall within specified jurisdiction for it to be undertaken by the medical examiner.  In Michigan, medical examiner jurisdiction includes:

a)     In-hospital deaths during the first 24 hours of care

b)     Any unexpected sudden death

c)      Unexpected or unexplained deaths occurring or following any dental, medical or surgical procedure or therapy (e.g., collapse during wire-guided angiography or other invasive studies to diagnose a disease process)

d)     Deaths attributed to an injury sustained while hospitalized

e)     Death on arrival (DOA) or death in the Emergency Room where the patient has not been seen by physician in the past forty-eight hours, unless the attending physician has knowledge of established disease

f)       Death by violence, whether accidental or purposeful, self-inflicted or caused by another, including: asphyxiation, poisoning, drowning, electrocution, falling from a height, fire or explosion, vehicle accident, radiation-induced, or trauma of any kind

g)     Death from an illegal abortion

h)     Suicide

i)       Fetal death without medical attendance

(For more information on jurisdiction, see Michigan Consolidated Law, MCLA 52.203).

Insist on an independent autopsy. The medical examiner’s office will decline to undertake an investigation if the death falls outside of the criteria. If that occurs, the family should get a private autopsy to preserve evidence and get answers. Any time the cause of death is unknown or uncertain a family should pursue an independent autopsy (i.e., one performed by a forensic pathologist not affiliated with the hospital or health professional involved in the care). Even if the unexplained or unexpected death is apparently natural (and therefore outside of the medical examiner system) it is still wise to pursue an independent autopsy. Failure to get an autopsy often bars any legal action later, because critical evidence is lost, buried, or unknown. Other situations in which to seek independent autopsies include obstetric deaths, perinatal or pediatric deaths, or deaths attributed to an injury sustained while hospitalized.

It is important to hire an independent forensic pathologist not affiliated with hospital to perform the autopsy on your loved one.  A hospital-employed pathologist may be less thorough or reluctant to disclose the truth if evidence of malpractice is found.

Promptly seek legal help. If there is evidence of malpractice, it is important to immediately seek legal help. A legal professional can help you gather and preserve evidence, and determine if there was malpractice and how to proceed.  If you or someone you know has recently experienced the unexpected death of a loved one and circumstances suggest possible medical negligence, it is important you contact an experienced and knowledgeable medical negligence attorney without delay to protect your interests.  The best attorneys have medical professionals on staff and immediately investigate the claim to determine if the unexpected death was caused by negligence.  Buchanan & Buchanan’s team has attorneys, doctors, nurses, and paralegals to guide and help you in this difficult time.

Medical Malpractice: Hospital Pain Management and Death from Excess Narcotics

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Introduction

Ina, a 67-year-old woman, went to an outpatient center to have a common surgery to improve knee function. Michelle, a young mother, went to the emergency room with headaches. Dan, a father of four, fell through a floor at work and needed minor ankle surgery. Though their medical needs were routine, Ina, Michelle, and Dan all died in a hospital or outpatient center shortly after healthcare professionals sent them home. None died from a natural cause or a surgical complication or medical conditions for which they sought treatment- all three died from excess medication given to them by healthcare professionals.

No doctor, nurse, or hospital staff ever disclosed the medication negligence to the patient, family, medical examiner, or a patient-safety official. They concealed the negligence; almost all healthcare people do.

Narcotic-related hospital and outpatient center deaths are a growing problem across the United States. A patient may go to the hospital or outpatient center for a routine procedure or to an emergency department with pain. The healthcare staff often gives pain medication, but then fails to properly monitor the amount, accumulation, or frequency of dosages. Failing to closely monitor a patient receiving pain medication dramatically increases risk of serious injury or death. Close monitoring is imperative because narcotics (also known as opioids) can accumulate in the patient’s system over time and quickly rise to toxic levels. Too often the healthcare staff has a myopic focus on controlling the patient’s pain and miss the warning signs of excess narcotic from repeated drug administration.

The United States Food and Drug Administration identifies warning signs that can indicate a patient has excess narcotic in his or her system: respiratory depression (slow and shallow breathing), drowsiness progressing to stupor (diminished responsiveness) or coma, cold or clammy skin, constricted or dilated pupils, bradycardia (unusually slow heart rate), or hypotension (abnormally low blood pressure). Excess narcotic levels can also cause apnea (temporary absence of breathing), full respiratory arrest (breathing stops), circulatory collapse (circulatory system fails to maintain sufficient flow of oxygenated-blood to tissues), cardiac arrest (heart stops), or death. When warning signs start, healthcare staff must act immediately to protect the patient. They should start supplemental oxygen to increase blood-oxygen levels, and give activated charcoal (if the excess was from pills) or naloxone, e.g., Narcan (if the excess was intravenously infused) to reverse the narcotic. Most important, the healthcare providers must ensure the patient has an open airway, and must stimulate breathing or breathe mechanically for the patient.

Dilaudid and Methadone

Hydromorphone (called Dilaudid) and methadone are two common narcotics that hospitals and outpatient centers use to manage pain; these drugs however are potentially lethal when even a little too much is given.

Dilaudid is a strong pain medicine: it is 7 to 8 times stronger than morphine. Dilaudid is administered orally by pill or infused as a liquid into a blood vessel. For this powerful narcotic, many hospitals or outpatient centers suggest administering a low initial dose-0.5 to 1 mg for patients under the age of 70, and 0.25 to 0.5 mg for patients older than 70. To be safe, medical professionals must start with a low dose and gradually increase the dose until reaching the desired effect (called “titration”). The medical professionals must also check the patient within 30 minutes of each dosage to take and document vitals, assess whether the drug has achieved the desired response, and ensure the patient is not suffering a dangerous side effect.

Methadone historically was a medication used to wean drug addicts from heroin. However in recent years more medical professionals are using methadone for long-term pain relief. Methadone poses a high risk for accidental overdose because its half-life (the time required for half the amount to decrease naturally) outlasts its ability to relieve pain. In other words, the drug may no longer relieve pain but has not fully left the body. Consequently, a medical professional might give repeated doses of methadone to relieve the patient’s pain without realizing the drug is accumulating to a dangerous level. Methadone is also a long-acting depressant-it can reduce breathing for 36 to 48 hours after the last dose. Because Methadone is so potent, it should only be used in exceptional cases, and even then only by a doctor specializing in pain management. Maximum safe dosage for methadone is 2.5 to 10 mg every 8 to 12 hours. Some doctors also prescribe methadone with other pain medications, and must determine impact of combining medications before doing so.

Mismanaging Potent Medication to Relieve Pain

After Ina’s outpatient procedure, the outpatient center’s staff gave her 10 mg of morphine (also a narcotic) and 2 mg of Dilaudid within one hour. Ina displayed classic warning signs of excess narcotics. Her husband was very concerned and questioned the nurse about the safety of sending Ina home. The nurse said Ina was fine and sent her home only 90 minutes after the last dose of Dilaudid. She died at home, resting in her own bed, because of the excess pain medication nurses had given.

The hospital staff treated Michelle’s headaches by giving 30 mg of Dilaudid over 30 and ½ hours. They continued to give more narcotic though it was not relieving her pain. Michelle died from excess narcotic in a hospital bed in the middle of the night only three hours after the last dose.

Dan’s minor ankle surgery was a success. While in the hospital, the staff gave him morphine, meperidine (also a narcotic, and called Demerol), and Dilaudid to control his pain. The hospital released him home the same day as surgery and his doctor prescribed methadone to manage pain at home. Dan followed the doctor’s order and took 10 mg every 4 hours. He died 3 days later from the gradual accumulation of methadone levels in his body.

Ina, Michelle, and Dan were all physically-fit and healthy when they went to the hospital or outpatient center for what should have been uneventful visits. Each medical visit ended in tragedy. Though our law firm could not undo the tragic results, we were able to help the families and secure justice by holding the healthcare providers accountable. Hospitals and outpatient centers are supposed to heal-or at least do no harm; but occasionally they fail to do their jobs correctly. When that occurs, they are legally responsible and should reimburse the harms and losses they cause.

Perhaps these tragedies sound familiar to you. If your loved one recently died after routine surgery, low-risk surgery, or soon after being admitted to a hospital for pain management, he or she may have died from a healthcare provider’s use of excess narcotic. If you suspect a loved one was harmed by a medical professional, you must act quickly. Michigan law does a poor job protecting people injured by medical professionals and any delay in seeking legal help can cause losing your rights. Contact us or another experienced medical malpractice attorney right away.

At Buchanan & Buchanan, our combined legal-medical team has decades of experience handling medical malpractice cases, including deaths caused by healthcare professionals giving excess narcotic. We also have medical professionals on staff to talk with you and review your claim. We quickly and efficiently assess the medical facts and take immediate action to protect your rights.

Automobile Accidents:
Understanding Michigan’s Automobile No-Fault System

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Introduction

Most drivers do not realize how many traffic accidents happen each year. In 2012 there were 273,891 traffic accidents in Michigan; over 70,000 people were injured in these accidents and 936 people died.1 If you are injured in an automobile accident, you may incur significant medical expenses, be unable to work for a time, suffer chronic or intermittent pain, and lose the ability to participate in the kinds of activities you routinely participated in before the accident. You may wonder: “How will I be able to pay the medical bills without going bankrupt?”; “How will I survive while I cannot work? Will my lost wages be covered during that time?”; “Am I entitled to reimbursement for my pain and suffering and the changes to my lifestyle?”

Michigan’s automobile no-fault law controls the answers to each of these questions, but that law is complicated and contains traps for those not familiar with its terms. The insurers responsible for paying your claims will often neglect to inform you of the pitfalls and might even actively resist paying you what they owe. For many people, dealing with insurance companies will be difficult, intimidating, and confusing. Anyone who has been seriously injured in an automobile accident should seek professional legal advice about his or her rights under Michigan’s automobile no-fault law.

At Buchanan & Buchanan our attorneys have decades of experience in handling claims arising out of serious automobile accidents. Our attorneys have the experience and knowledge to ensure you receive all the benefits your insurer agreed to pay when it sold you the policy. And, should it be necessary, we are prepared to defend your right to receive the reimbursements you are entitled to receive. Similarly, if your quality of life has been harmed because of an automobile accident, our attorneys will ensure the person responsible reimburses you for the harms and losses.

We prepared this overview of Michigan’s no-fault law to help you understand and navigate the complexities. The overview is not a substitute for a legal consultation, and will help you understand how an attorney will assist you after an accident.

Background

Since this state’s founding, Michigan law has followed a simple rule: a person who injures another should take responsibility for his or her actions and reimburse the innocent, injured person. Many people refuse to take responsibility for their misconduct. With the dramatic increase in automobile ownership after the Second World War and increase in accidents, more and more injured people were forced to court to secure reimbursement for the harms and losses that others caused. Because some believed the court system was ill-equipped to ensure injured persons were timely and efficiently reimbursed, in 1972 the Michigan Legislature dramatically altered the legal framework for reimbursing persons injured in automobile accidents.

Under the new system, the Legislature required every driver to purchase no-fault automobile insurance and to seek reimbursement from his or her own insurer for an accident rather than from the person who caused the accident. Because the injured person’s own insurer was supposed to adequately and timely reimburse the injured person without a requirement of proving someone else was at fault, the law is called the automobile no-fault law.

Insurance Requirements Under Michigan’s No-Fault Law

After passing the no-fault law, every “owner or registrant of a motor vehicle” has to purchase no-fault insurance for his or her motor vehicle. The term “motor vehicle” is defined, in part, to mean a vehicle operated or designed to operate on a public highway by power (other than manpower) and which has more than two wheels. The term “motor vehicle” does not include motorcycles. The insurance must include “personal protection insurance, property protection insurance, and residual liability insurance.”2 Because it is easier, most attorneys refer to personal protection insurance as “PIP” insurance to distinguish it from property protection insurance, or PPI. Attorneys also frequently describe benefits provided by PIP as first-party benefits” because those claims are supposed to be paid by the injured person’s insurer, as opposed to by some third-party.

First-Party Benefits

An insurer who issues a no-fault policy in Michigan must provide three basic types of coverage to the people insured under the policy: (1) allowable expenses, (2) work loss, and (3) replacement services.3 (Insurers are also required to provide a limited survivor’s benefit for the insured person’s dependents,4 but for brevity we limit this article to the injured person’s reimbursements.) The Legislature also authorized certain setoffs against the reimbursement benefits.

Benefit for Allowable Expenses

Allowable expenses are “all reasonable charges incurred for reasonably necessary products, services and accommodations for an injured person’s care, recovery, or rehabilitation.” This includes reimbursement of all reasonable medical expenses (for example, hospital costs, doctors’ office visits, surgeries, rehabilitation, and medical devices) related to the injured person’s recovery. If the injured person needs the assistance of others after leaving the hospital—called attendant care—the costs of that care is reimbursed at $20 a day, even if family members provide the care. If the injured person requires accommodations for care, recovery, or rehabilitation, such as home or vehicle modifications, the accommodations are reimbursed as allowable expense.

Work Loss Benefit

Under Michigan’s automobile no-fault law, an injured person’s insurer must reimburse the injured person for “loss of income from work” he or she “would have performed” if there had been no injury. The insurer is only required to pay this benefit for work the injured person would have performed “during the first 3 years after the date of the accident.” The Legislature also directed the injured person’s reimbursement should be reduced by 15% because the work loss reimbursement is not taxed; in a typical case, the insurer reimburses 85% of the injured person’s normal wages. However, an injured person can offer “reasonable proof” his or her income tax is lower than 15%, in which case the insurer may only reduce the benefit by the lower percentage.

An injured person temporarily unemployed at the time of the accident is entitled to the work loss benefit. But the benefit is calculated using the income earned for the last month he or she was employed full time before the accident.

Although employers routinely reimburse their employees with benefits beyond an hourly wage, such as through retirement and health benefits, insurers argued they should not have to pay for those “fringe” benefits. The Michigan Supreme Court agreed and held the Legislature’s reference to income meant the injured person was entitled to reimburse only for lost wages or salary and not losing fringe benefits that would have been paid when the person could not work.7 The Michigan Supreme Court was apparently unaware the term “income” The Michigan Supreme Court was apparently unaware the term “income” can include the money or its equivalent value a person receives as compensation for his or her labors.

Replacement Services Benefit

The no-fault law also states an insurer must reimburse an injured person for expenses the injured person incurs for “ordinary and necessary services” that he or she would have performed if the injury had not happened. Ordinary and necessary services include normal, everyday chores a person typically performs for the household, such as washing laundry, household cleaning, car maintenance, chopping wood, balancing the books, and preparing food. This benefit should permit an injured person to hire someone to perform those ordinary and necessary tasks the injured person would have performed for the household, but can no longer perform because of injury.

Although the Legislature did not refer to this benefit as the replacement services benefit, Michigan courts typically do. The replacement services benefit has strict limitations that often prevent an injured person from obtaining full reimbursement: the insurer is only required to pay this benefit for the first three years after the accident that caused the injury and the expense may not exceed $20 per day.

Third-Party Claims

With the enactment of the automobile no-fault law, the Legislature intended to create a system where persons injured in motor vehicle accidents primarily obtain injury reimbursement from their own insurers. The Legislature abolished “tort liability” “from the ownership, maintenance, or use” of a motor vehicle-that is, the Legislature took away an injured person’s right to sue the person who caused the injuries for reimbursement. However, the Legislature provided several important exceptions to the rule. Each exception is an area the Legislature determined it unfair to permit the wrongdoer to avoid responsibility. Because these exceptions involve claims against someone other than the injured person’s own insurer, the courts and attorneys refer to these claims as “third-party claims.”8

Intentional Harms

The Legislature determined a person who intentionally strikes another person with a motor vehicle remains fully liable for the wrongful act. An injured person may sue the wrongdoer for injury reimbursement.

The Mini-Tort

The Legislature also recognized most people purchase insurance with a deductible and concluded it unfair to require a victim without fault to pay the deductible. The Legislature provided a person whose car was damaged in an accident may sue the person responsible for the damage to the extent the damage is not covered by the innocent person’s insurance policy. However, the amount cannot exceed $1,000; this amount should cover most deductibles, but it may leave a person without full coverage inadequate reimbursement to repair or replace a damaged vehicle. This exception is often referred to as the “mini-tort” exception.

Economic Damages

The Legislature also determined an injured person should be able to seek reimbursement for allowable expenses, work losses, and survivors’ losses to the extent such losses exceed coverage provided by his or her own policy. If an injured person cannot work because of the injuries over three years after the accident, he or she may sue to recover reimbursement for the income that he or she would have earned. Insurance companies have aggressively-and successfully-attacked an injured person’s ability to obtain reimbursement for economic loss. It is therefore important to immediately retain a qualified attorney to ensure you receive the reimbursements you are entitled to under the no-fault law.

Noneconomic Damages

Economic damages can be measured by objective criteria; an injured person can get an estimate for the cost to repair damaged property, present a bill for medical care, and offer a pay stub as proof of lost income. But, how do you measure the monetary worth of leading a life free from pain, from disfigurement, from depression or mental distress, from constant embarrassment or humiliation? If you were in danger of losing your ability to walk, what would you pay to preserve that vital ability? The losses for pain, disfigurement, mental anguish, and losing bodily function are referred to by attorneys as noneconomic losses.

Noneconomic losses are not covered by an injured person’s own insurance and the Legislature abolished responsibility for the ownership, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle. An injured person normally cannot sue the person responsible for the injuries to recover reimbursement for noneconomic loss. However, the Legislature recognized it would be unfair to deny reimbursement to a person with severe injuries. The Legislature provided a person who causes an injury remains “subject to tort liability for noneconomic loss caused by his or her ownership, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle,” but only if the “injured person has suffered death, serious impairment of body function, or permanent serious disfigurement.” The Legislature defined a “serious impairment of body function” to be an “objectively manifested impairment of an important body function that affects the person’s general ability to lead his or her normal life.”

Although insurers have accepted that noneconomic damages must be paid for death and permanent serious disfigurement, they have repeatedly and aggressively contested whether an injured person has suffered a serious impairment of body function that would entitle the injured person to reimbursement for noneconomic losses. Insurers typically contest whether the injury affects the injured person’s ability to lead his or her normal life.

Conclusion

As you can see, whether and to what extent you recover reimbursement for your losses from a motor vehicle accident depends on correct application of Michigan’s no-fault law. Often, the insurance companie-even your own-will do everything in their power to avoid paying you what they owe; they will delay and employ legal tactics to deprive you of reimbursements you deserve. It is therefore important for anyone injured in a motor vehicle accident, and especially those who suffered serious injuries, to immediately seek help from an attorney experienced with the no-fault law. Even a relatively minor delay can cause you to lose the right to reimbursements.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, please contact Buchanan & Buchanan today for help recovering the reimbursements to which you are entitled.


1See Michigan State Police Criminal Justice Information Center Crash Statistics for 2012.
2If you wish to read the law requiring automobile no-fault insurance, you will find it at MCL 500.3101.
3If you wish to read the law governing the benefits that are required under PIP, you will find it at MCL 500.3107.
4If you wish to read the law governing survivor’s benefits, you will find it at MCL 500.3108.
5See MCL 500.3109.
6In re Carroll (On Remand), 300 Mich App 513; 832 NW2d 276 (2013).
7See Krawczyk v DAIIE, 418 Mich 231; 341 NW2d 110 (1983).
8If you would like to read the statute that abolishes tort liability arising from the ownership, maintenance, or use of an automobile, you will find it at MCL 500.3135.
9Johnson v Recca, 492 Mich 169; 821 NW2d 520 (2012).
10See Moore v Cregeur, 266 Mich App 515; 702 NW2d 667 (2005).

Motorcycle Accidents: Understanding Your Rights Under Michigan’s No-Fault Law

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Introduction

Michigan offers tremendous natural beauty-the splendor of Tulip Time in spring, winding and majestic shorelines in summer, and spectacular fireworks of color in autumn. What better way is there to enjoy this outdoor playground than on a motorcycle? But, as many motorcyclists learn, there are a lot of automobile drivers on Michigan highway unaccustomed to sharing the road with motorcycles and unaware of the special safety concerns motorcyclists face. Those drivers may not understand motorcyclists need the full width of the lane for room to maneuver, may misjudge the speed and distance of a motorcycle on the basis of its smaller size, may not realize motorcyclists need advanced warning before nearby automobiles change lanes or turn, and may not realize relatively minor road hazards can pose a serious risk to motorcyclists1. This lack of awareness can quickly transform a leisurely motorcycle ride through the country into a tragic accident. And when tragedy occurs, it is important for the motorcyclist to consult a qualified attorney to ensure his or her rights under Michigan’s no-fault law are protected.

Most motorcyclists do not know how Michigan’s no-fault law applies to their accident. Foolish ones rely on an insurer for information on whether and to what extent they are entitled to reimbursement for their injuries. As we will discuss in this overview, the law applicable to motorcycle accidents is tricky and relying on an insurer’s representations may lead to losing valuable rights and benefits under the no-fault law.

Motorcycle Insurance and No-Fault

With the adoption of the no-fault act2, the Legislature required the “owner or registrant of a motor vehicle” to purchase “security for payment of benefits under personal protection insurance, property protection insurance, and residual liability insurance.”3 But the Legislature defined the term “motor vehicle” to exclude motorcycles: “‘Motor vehicle’ means a vehicle, including a trailer, operated or designed for operation upon a highway by power other than muscular power which has more than 2 wheels. Motor vehicle does not include a motorcycle or moped . . . .”4 The owner or registrant of a motorcycle does not have to purchase a no-fault policy with personal protection insurance (commonly referred to as PIP benefits). Similarly, the Legislature only required no-fault insurers to pay PIP benefits for “accidental injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle . . . .”5 When a motorcyclist is in an accident that does not involve a motor vehicle, the motorcyclist will not be entitled to PIP no-fault benefits-instead, the motorcyclist must rely on his or her own first-party medical insurance, if they were purchased.6

Michigan’s Legislature excluded motorcycles from the no-fault system because it believed requiring motorcyclists to purchase no-fault insurance would cause premiums so high that motorcyclists could not afford insurance.7 Instead, the Legislature required motorcyclists to purchase insurance to cover injuries they may cause to others and damage to others’ property.8 The Legislature also recognized it would be unfair to preclude a motorcyclist from recovering no-fault benefits when the motorcyclist is involved in an accident with a motor vehicle.

Motorcycle Accidents Involving Motor Vehicles

Although the Legislature did not require motorcyclists to purchase no-fault insurance, it determined motorcyclists-like pedestrians and bicyclists-should collect PIP no-fault benefits when involved in an accident with a motor vehicle. By granting this, the Legislature recognized the “actuarial data in the record tends to show that motorcycles are rarely at fault in motor vehicle accidents.”9 The Legislature qualified motorcyclists for no-fault benefits by defining a motor vehicle accident to mean “a loss involving the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle regardless of whether the accident also involves the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motorcycle as a motorcycle.”10

The key term is “involving”-a motorcyclist will only be entitled to PIP no-fault benefits if he or she can show the accident involved a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. In many situations it will be unclear whether a motorcycle accident involved a motor vehicle; this is especially true for accidents where a motor vehicle caused or contributed to the accident but did not contact the motorcycle.

Bradley’s case is important in several respects. Bradley first tried to get his wife’s insurer to pay him the no-fault benefits he was entitled to receive, but it refused. Had Bradley relied on his wife’s insurer’s representation it had no obligation to pay him PIP benefits, Bradley would have lost valuable benefits. Bradley wisely sought help from an attorney who made sure he received all policy benefits he and his wife were entitled to under Michigan law. This case shows it is not always simple to show a motorcyclist’s accident was caused-at least in part-by a motor vehicle being used as a motor vehicle. In many situations, a motorcyclist may lose control and not have contact with an automobile because of some careless action by the driver of an automobile. The driver who caused the motorcyclist to lose control may not even realize what occurred and continue driving without stopping. Under that circumstance, the motorcyclist may be forced to prove a motor vehicle was involved in the accident without being able to identify the motor vehicle or the driver. It is even more important for the motorcyclist to consult an attorney who has extensive experience with motorcycle accident claims.

No-Fault Compensation for Motorcycle Accidents

Once a motorcyclist establishes that an accident involved a motor vehicle, he or she is entitled to the same benefits under the no-fault act as an automobile driver. The injured motorcyclist is entitled to first-party PIP benefits, which include reimbursement for allowable expenses, work loss, and replacement services. A seriously injured motorcyclist has the right to sue the automobile driver who caused the injuries. This type of suit is commonly referred to as a third-party claim. With a third-party claim, the motorcyclist can obtain reimbursement for pain, suffering, disfigurement, and changes to the motorcyclist’s lifestyle (commonly referred to as non-economic losses) and for economic losses not covered by PIP benefits. The no-fault law determines the nature and extent of available reimbursement. If you wish to learn more about the no-fault law and how it might affect one’s ability to be reimbursed, see our article Automobile Accidents: Understanding Michigan’s Automobile No-Fault System.

Conclusion

Whether and to what extent you can recover reimbursement for losses suffered in a motorcycle accident is determined by how Michigan law applies to your accident. If the accident did not involve a motor vehicle, you likely have few options. If, however, your accident involved a motor vehicle, you may be entitled to significantly reimbursement. An insurance company-even your own-will do everything in their power to label your accident as one not involving a motor vehicle. In that way the insurance company avoids paying you what they owe; an insurer might also use delay and legal tactics to deprive you of the reimbursements you deserve. It is essential for anyone injured in a motorcycle accident, especially the seriously injured, to immediately seek help from a law firm such as Buchanan & Buchanan PLC that handles motorcycle accident claims. Even a minor delay can cause you to lose the right to reimbursements and benefits.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motorcycle accident, please contact us today so we can help.

1 The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration noted these common problems in its 2013 Talking Points for motorcycle safety awareness month.
2 For a brief overview of Michigan’s automobile no-fault law, click HERE.
3 If you wish to read this law, it can be found at MCL 500.3101(1).
4 If you wish to read this law, it can be found at MCL 500.3101(2)(e).
5 If you wish to read this law, it can found at MCL 500.3105(1).
6 See MCL 500.3101(2)(d) (defining motorcycle accident to mean a “loss involving the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motorcycle as a motorcycle, but not involving the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle . . . .”).
7 See Underhill v Safeco Ins Co, 407 Mich 175, 188; 284 NW2d 463 (1979).
8 If you wish to read this law, it can be found at MCL 500.3103(1). The Legislature also required insurers to offer motorcyclists the opportunity to purchase first-party medical benefits, but even if a motorcyclist chooses to purchase this insurance, the coverage will apply only to the injured person’s medical expenses and, in the event of a serious accident, will likely be inadequate.
9 Shavers v Attorney General, 402 Mich 554, 633; 267 NW2d 72 (1978).
10 See MCL 500.3101(2)(f).
11 See Bradley v Detroit Automoblie Inter-Insurance Exchange, 130 Mich App 34; 343 NW2d 506 (1983).