How are Damages Calculated on a Personal Injury Case in Michigan?Like most other states, in Michigan personal injury damages are designed to fully compensate a victim of an injury. If you have been hurt by someone who was acting negligently or intentionally, Michigan wants to make sure you do not have to pay the bills or suffer the financial damages from that injury. However, there are some limitations and rules for how damages are calculated in certain personal injury cases that you should be aware of.
What Types of Damages Can You Recover?
Damages for personal injury are primarily designed to fully compensate a victim. Therefore, damages include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of companionship
- Wrongful death
How are Damages Calculated?
When a personal injury case goes to court, the jury will listen to all the evidence presented by the plaintiff and defendant. If the jury finds the defendant guilty (because he was negligent and caused an injury or because he intentionally caused an injury), then the jury will decide on an appropriate damage award for the plaintiff.
The jury will look at a number of factors, including the actual financial losses, the seriousness and permanence of the injury, and the behavior of the defendant. A serious or permanent injury is likely to fetch a far higher verdict than a minor injury. Someone who has a permanent scar on his face, for example, is likely to get more in damages than someone who has a permanent scar behind the back of his knee where no one can see it. Likewise, someone who is permanently disabled is going to be awarded a larger verdict than someone who had a broken arm.
In the case of wrongful death, the jury will look at things such as lifetime lost earning capacity, based on life expectancy, as well as the quality of life and relationships the deceased victim had. Loss of companionship, designed to compensate survivors for the loss of their relative, is also factored in.
What if You Settle?
Many personal injury cases settle out of court. This means that a one time cash payment is offered to a plaintiff so that the case doesn't go to court. The settlement is usually offered by an insurance company, since many times in personal injury cases, a car insurance, homeowners insurance or malpractice insurance company is actually on the hook for the damages and not the person who did the injuring.
When a plaintiff gets a settlement offer and accepts, that plaintiff is essentially agreeing that the settlement amount is what his claim is worth, since he gives up all further rights to sue. Plaintiffs should make sure they are fully and completely compensated by a settlement before agreeing to the offer.
Knowing the policy limits is also important. If a defendant's insurance has a $250,000 policy limit, then the insurance company will not pay more than $250,000 in damages. While you could potentially still recover more, any additional amount above the coverage would have to come directly from the personal assets of the person who injured you. If that person has no assets, getting a larger award may not do you much good since he will be essentially unable to pay or "judgment proof."
What are Some Exceptions?
There are certain situations where you cannot sue for your personal injury or where your right to sue is limited. For example:
- If you are injured in a car accident and the law does not deem your injuries "serious," (i.e. they are not permanent or severe), then you are limited to recovering your damages from your own no fault insurance under the no fault laws. Your claim is thus limited to whatever your medical bills cost, plus up to $4878 per month or 85 percent of your income in lost wages (whichever is greater) for up to 3 years.
- If you are injured at work, then you must recover under the worker's compensation system instead of a lawsuit. The nature and permanence of your injury determines what you can recover from the worker's compensation insurer.
Are There Damage Caps?
Michigan has instituted damage caps on certain personal injury cases. If you sue your doctor for medical malpractice, you are limited in what you can recover and thus in what your case is worth.
As of January 2010, Michigan law places a $280,000 cap on non-economic damages (those not for medical bills and lost wages). This cap is adjusted annually for inflation, and does not apply when a plaintiff has:
- Become permanently paralyzed
- Suffered an injury rendering him permanently cognitively impaired and unable to make decisions or perform functions necessary to daily life (such as bathing, walking, eating, etc.).
- Suffered permanent loss of his ability to procreate due to damage to reproductive organs
If the above three conditions apply, then the damage cap is limited to $500,000 instead of $280,000.
What About Punitive Damages?
Michigan does not permit punitive damages (see Gregory v. Cincinnati Inc., 538 N.W.2d 325 (Mich. 1995)). These are damages designed to punish the defendant, instead of to compensate the plaintiff.
If you have suffered a personal injury in Michigan, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney to find out more information on how damages will be calculated in your case.
For more information on personal injuries in Michigan, click on the following articles: