Can I Be Liable if My Car is Rear Ended in Michigan?

Michigan law requires that you maintain a safe distance from the car in front of you in order to be able to stop safely if it stops suddenly. This means that in almost all cases, the driver who rear ends someone will be at fault. However, there are certain exceptions to this general rule, so if you are the driver in front, you may not always get off scot free.

When Can the Front Driver Be Liable in a Rear-End Accident

The front driver who is rear-ended can be liable if his actions led, in some way, to the other driver rear ending him. For example:

The driver of the rear vehicle might also not be at fault if he, too, was rear ended, causing him to bump into the car in front of him. Finally, if his car suffered a mechanical failure, or there were other exigent circumstances, he might not be liable for damages (though the manufacturer of the car may be liable in such circumstances.).

What Does "Liability" Mean Anyway?

In Michigan, liability for a car accident generally does not have the same serious and potentially financially devastating consequences that it does in many states. This is because Michigan is what's known as a no-fault state. Under Michigan's no-fault rules, each driver recovers his own medical bills and lost wages from his own insurance company.

This means that if you rear end someone and he suffers whiplash and is unable to work for two years, unlike in tort or fault states, you won't have to pay for all his medical bills and the two years of work he missed. Instead, that injured driver can receive compensation from his own insurance company for his medical bills as well as for 85 percent of his lost wages.(Recovery for lost wages is limited to 3 years of wages, with a further $4,878 per month maximum limit.)

However, you aren't entirely free of liability entirely if you rear end someone. There are two specific situations in which you may be liable.

The Mini Tort

One of the situations in which you may face fault is if the other driver decides to pursue a mini-tort action against you. Michigan's no-fault law allows a driver to recover from the at-fault driver up to $500 in property damages.

So, for example, if the driver of the front car has no fault for the accident and he has a $500 deductible on his collision coverage for his vehicle, the driver in back may have to pay up to $500 in damages. As noted, this is capped at $500, so if the innocent driver has a $700 deductible, the responsible driver still only pays $500. If the driver in front, on the other hand, had a $100 deductible, the driver in back would pay $100.00 only.

If the driver of the front car is found partially responsible, comparative negligence applies. This means that recovery is reduced by the amount of fault the driver trying to recover compensation bears for causing the accident. So, in our example above, if the front driver was 10 percent responsible for the accident, the rear driver would have the $500 damages reduced by 10 percent and be liable to pay $450.

Serious Injuries

The other situation in which a driver can face fault, despite the no-fault system, is if he causes serious injuries. "Serious injuries" would be death, permanent disfigurement, or disability. In such cases, the driver found to be at fault for the accident can be sued and have to pay damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress (sometimes), or, in rare cases, punitive damages.

Getting Help

If you have been involved in an accident in which you either rear ended someone or were rear ended, consult with an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney can guide you through the process of determining who is at fault and what the potential liability for the accident may be.

For more information on Michigan car injury accidents, click on the following articles:

My car, driven by a relative, was involved in a car crash in Michigan. Am I liable for injuries and damage to the other person if my relative is negligent?

How do I protect my rights when involved in a car accident in Michigan?

The other driver had no auto insurance. What is my recourse in MI?

What determines fault in an auto accident in Michigan?

Do I need an accident lawyer in Michigan?

How much can I get for my auto accident in Michigan?